Nov. 28, 2001
A deep, dark hole is no place for a terrorist, or an American

A deep, dark hole is no place for a terrorist, or an American.

A deep, dark hole is no place for a terrorist, or an American

A deep, dark hole is no place for a terrorist, or an American. Nobody can, or should, hide forever.

We have special forces over in Afghanistan ready to shine light through hollow ground in search of the new-age enemy. Here at home, people are slowly coming out of their security bunkers and trying to regain some sense of normalcy.

Transportation should no longer be considered another spoke in the wheel of our economy. It’s more like a reflector—keeping this nation out of harm’s way. When people stopped flying, hotels stopped booking, caterers and restaurants stopped cooking and tourist attractions stood without anyone, well, looking.

The events that ruffled our eagle feathers effected positive movement even on the local level. For days few went to the movies, the mall, or to community events.

All modes of transportation, including roads and bridges, keep pockets fat. Without them, the spending power of this nation is cut off.

So how is the government holding this golden egg?

The airports have seen the most action. The National Guard is patrolling security check points, for the next couple months anyway, locking its trained eye on X-ray monitors. Police with bomb-sniffing dogs scour the area. Air marshals are currently being trained and will be placed on selected flights. The airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration, however, have come up short. Cockpit doors are still wafer thin. On Oct. 8, a "deranged" passenger on an American Airlines flight bound for Chicago stormed the controls and almost took the plane down before he was jumped by passengers. American Airlines said it was impossible to arm all doors in three weeks time. When it comes to national security, there is no such thing as "impossible."

Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta tried to prove it was safe to fly by taking off on a domestic charter in late September. He’s a high-ranking official, so you could imagine how many times that particular flight was checked. It’s a shame the same can’t be done before every takeoff.

Public transportation has been abandoned during the bull rush of armory to the airports. Just recently, I decided to take "The El" to work. For those of you unfamiliar with Chicago, certain sections of the elevated transit system dip underground as it approaches the business district ("The Loop"). On this particular Friday, I was carrying some baggage for an active weekend. As I exited the subway, nobody asked to search my belongings. In fact, I only saw one transit worker—and she barely looked at me. Terrorists hit us where we’re vulnerable and, at least in Chicago, there seems to be a soft sector in a highly populated area.

On the other hand, the grip around the borders is tightening. I had the chance to talk to a few Canadians at the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition in Louisville, held Sept. 25-27, and they said the line for trucks waiting to be inspected went on forever. The nation’s railroads took similar precautions early, keeping chemical cargo clear of metropolitan areas before extra security measures were in place.

But what alarm has sounded in the state DOT/FHWA house? I’m assuming most historic bridges—Golden Gate, Brooklyn, Manhattan—are under some kind of surveillance. New York City should be hyperactive when it comes to terrorism prevention. One can’t count out the possibility of the detonation of all the major spans in the area, leaving people trapped in chaos. The time to have video cameras on all bridges is now.

And is the interstate system ready to handle mass evacuations? Speaking on Chicago’s behalf I have to say no. Here, rush hour is traumatic.

Why am I thinking this way? Because for the first time in modern civilization a war has unfolded on American soil—and we may need to plan an escape or two. In my book, freedom and safety go hand-in-hand.

President George W. Bush and his administration have taken an admirable approach, and I have no doubt the intelligence and resilience of this nation will overcome any and all enemies. But prevention is the answer—prevention at all costs. Let’s not experience any more dark times.