To the Editor:
I came across an article the other day by Victor Davis Hanson, a well-known military historian, and author.
The article, called “Members of Previous Generations Now Seem Like Giants,” appeared on www.realclearpolitics.com. The premise of the article was that when we compare the people that were responsible for the early progress of our nation to our leaders of today, our ancestors seem like giants.
As an example, the Transcontinental Railroad was started in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, and finished in 1869, six years later. It is considered by some to be the greatest American technological achievement of the 18th century.
Could we accomplish this feat today? I doubt it.
Look at the mess in California over a high-speed rail line. To use Hanson’s words, “… after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns, and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up.”
Any kind of public works project today seems to get tied up in endless litigation, convoluted permitting processes and protests by every special interest under the sun. Hanson points out other boondoggles in California, his home state, and shows comparisons between original projects, and how they would be handled or modified today.
The San Francisco Bay Bridge was built in the 1930’s in less than four years, under the authority of one agency. When rework was required recently to meet updated earthquake requirements, 13 agencies had to grant approval and it took 11 years.
The space race of the 1960’s was another example of the “giants” of yesteryear. Hanson said, "America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moonshot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.”
The “greatest generation” fought Germany and Japan and defeated them in 1945 in four years. Today, we have been fighting in Afghanistan for 18 years, with no clear result.
The theme of his essay rings true in New Jersey. In 1958, studies were begun for the Atlantic City Expressway. In 1960, our ancestors began construction.
The road was completed in 1965, three years, and seven years from inception. This highway was routed through wetlands and the Pinelands, but it got built.
Route 55 was planned around the same time. It was to run from Westville to Route 9 in Court House and be completed in 1975. The first segment opened in 1969, from Maurice River Township to Millville. Eventually, the northern terminus was moved to Route 42 in Deptford, and the entire route as it stands today was completed in 1989. It has been 30 years and the southern section to Court House is nowhere in our future.
Studies were done in 1975 and again in 1993. Eventually, the state concluded it should not be built for environmental reasons. Some “giants” they were.
Hanson sums up the problem this way: “Our ancestors were builders and pioneers and mostly fearless. We are regulators, auditors, bureaucrats, adjudicators, censors, critics, plaintiffs, defendants, social media junkies, and thin-skinned scolds. A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle and gripe.”
True - especially in New Jersey.