Ike Saw Half of the Big Picture Clearly … But With One Eye Closed.

Every so often, I pick up some tidbit of information that really has impact … maybe it’s something significant that I never knew before. Or perhaps it’s a choice of words or a particular phrasing that gives the idea some extra punch.

Here’s something that I came across recently that’s interesting on its own, but is certainly relevant to the ongoing debate on the proper role of government in transportation issues.

Dwight Eisenhower is justifiably given credit for realizing the need for an interstate highway system. He conceived the idea, managed to convey his vision to enough members of Congress to get it funded, and his administration launched it.  Certainly, no one would deny that it’s necessary. God knows, we continue to spend billions every year to maintain and expand it.

But here’s the interesting part. While Ike saw the need for a national network of highways funded and constructed by the federal government, he saw no need for any federal involvement in or regulation of commercial aviation, which was expanding rapidly during his time in office. The result: a number of  commercial airline crashes and mid-air collisions which killed more than a thousand people in a ten year period during and just after his presidency.

It was only under Eisenhower’s successor, Jack Kennedy, that the Federal Aviation Agency took over regulation of the airlines and provided the air traffic control system.

Interesting, isn’t it? How could the man see the need for the federal government to take the lead in one area of public transportation, but not see an even greater and more obvious need in another area.

And how is it that so many current elected officials are unable to see the growing and increasingly critical need for federal support of passenger rail in this country? As the saying goes, “We get too soon old, and too late smart.”