For decades, public cash has gushed into building infrastructure designed to get us around in those little (or not-so-little) privatized pods. Indeed, the mobilization to create and maintain our road and highway network probably counts as our greatest public achievement of the last half-century.

Meanwhile, while the highway rode high, our rail-transportation network crashed. Attacked and defunded by politicians and rejected by the public, Amtrak lurches on, barely. It’s a a parody of a transportation system — unrecognizable as such by anyone who’s ever caught a train in Western Europe.

Things may be changing, though. High oil prices aren’t just causing Americans to cut back on driving; they’re also impeding efforts to maintain roads. Just as cars run on oil-derived gasoline, the road to auto nirvana is paved with oil-derived asphalt. From USA Today:

Fewer roads will be repaved this summer, thanks to soaring prices of oil-based asphalt. Some states, cities and counties say their road-repair budgets didn’t anticipate asphalt prices that are up 25.9 percent from a year ago, so they’re being forced to delay projects.

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“We will do what patching we can,” one county official in South Dakota complained to USA Today, “but this will truly, truly be a devastating blow to the infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the airline industry has entered a state of free fall; hammered by oil prices, the world’s airlines collectively expect to lose “at least” $2.3 billion in 2008, The New York Times reports.

U.S. truckers, too, are reeling, unable to make a living as diesel prices soar.

I’m not trying to get all peak-oil on y’all, but maybe it’s time to start reinvesting in rail? I’m just saying.

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