Oregon Builds Two Autobahn Class Super Highways
Bend, Oregon 1959. I sat in Mr. Dietz’s sixth grade class in Allen Grade School. We celebrated Oregon’s Centennial by singing “Oregon, My Oregon” and watching the male teachers try to grow beards. Piggly Wiggly and other local stores brought in the old fashioned drink Sarsaparilla. There were school assemblies and a pageant downtown. Once the celebration had past, we went about our lives, which to many young men meant thinking about cars.
Everything in the late 1950s and early 1960s seemed to be about cars. Detroit was portrayed as the industrial capital of the world, “What’s good for GM is good for the Country,” was an often heard slogan. Auto designs were creative and invigorating, commercials were sexy, and California was the place to be with its unlimited fast-paced culture and freeways to match. In the midst, or perhaps because of this, President Dwight D. Eisenhower trumpeted a highway system that would criss-cross the nation and reach every state.
Huge dollars were poured into this American fantasy and in return America got unbridled economic growth. It was transformational and turned the country into a non-stop commercial for the automobile industry and its corollary sectors.
I don’t consider myself a car person but as a boy in junior high, I would walk across the street during my school lunch hours to the local Bob Thomas Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership and study the fins. I watched transmissions transition from push-button through Hydramatic into Powerglide. To this day, the unofficial schooling I received has stuck with me and I can still shout out the names and models of all the cars from that era.
That was fifty years ago, and look where we are today. Last month, Ford Motor Company reported nearly a $5B loss, and executives from all of the major Automobile companies were recently ridiculed in Congress. All of the American automobile companies are seriously considering bankruptcy.
No one denies that we still need cars, so what has happened to cause this kind of systemic failure? We all have our own answers to that question, poor customer service, arrogance, the anarchy of capitalism, the healthcare crisis. I’ll leave that to others to do the analysis. What I am going to do here is spell out a potentially unique role that Oregon could play in transforming the automobile industry and the US economy.
Here is the way I see it unfolding. Just like President Eisenhower championed the Interstate Highway system. I see a new initiative in Oregon called the Sustainable Highway Grid. It will be a marvel of modern highway design. Capable of very high speed travel it will surpass Europe’s Autobahns in speed, safety and efficiency. These highways will be restricted to automobiles that travel 100 miles per gallon, or a higher standard as defined by the legislature to be consistent with Oregon’s reputation.
These highways will trigger an automobile renaissance and infuse the automotive world with passion. Entrepreneurs will flock to Oregon to test their vehicles on our superhighways. Perhaps NASA with it’s “personal air car” will finally deliver on the dream promised us in 1959’s “Weekly Reader” a flying car.
Attached to these highways and constructed simultaneously will be bicycle highways. These will increase the attraction to Oregon as a place to live, work and recreate.
I envision two of these highways by 2059, one will run north-south from Spokane to Reno connecting the wonderful Malheur County and Harney County areas with the Wallowa Mountains and Hell’s Canyon areas.
The second highway will run from Burns to Bend through Eugene and over to the Oregon Coast. These of course will connect with Interstates 5 and 84 and really flesh out Oregon’s highway infrastructure.
Oregon Becomes the New Automobile Manufacturing Capital
Many Oregonians and most Americans are still tied to their cars. Cities have been designed to encourage an unhealthy dependence. Mass transit systems are poor but in many places getting better. Portland has become a bicycle Mecca with many people riding for work and pleasure. These are important trends, but nothing would jumpstart the economy like reestablishing the best parts of the automobile revolution of the 50s. And Oregon with its high-technology workforce, port capacity, burgeoning energy creation capability, is well positioned to make this happen. For it to be successful, it has to happen in a way that is consistent with Oregon’s values. Those values are rooted in sustainability.
In a BLOG article called From Inspiration to Innovation, McDonough and Braungart the authors of the seminal work on sustainability Cradle to Cradle, say:
"Rather than trying to limit the impact of industry through the management of harmful emissions, cradle-to-cradle thinking posits that intelligent design can eliminate the concept of waste, resolving the conflict between nature and commerce. By modeling industrial systems on nature's nutrient flows, designers can create highly productive facilities that have positive effects on their surroundings, and completely healthful products that are either returned to the soil or flow back to industry forever. It's a life-affirming strategy that celebrates human creativity and the abundance of nature".
Which will come first, a new Oregon automotive industry or the Sustainable Highway Grid? I don’t know, but they are a natural partnership.
Oregon has a vitality that is so attractive it will bring in whatever talent is required to build new sustainability industry. And I don’t think Oregon will have to do it on its own.
Oregon’s automotive industry will be a partnership between one of the traditional Big-3 (if they survive) and one of the advanced and advancing companies like Aptera, Tesla or Fisker with their hot electrics. If not a Big-3 company then one of the international companies will willingly step in and participate in this reinvigoration of motoring. It is a win-win for the industry and for the people of the state who will benefit from sustainable jobs, and new industries.
Oregon Leads the Nation in Attracting Tourists
The Sustainable Highway Grid will help Oregon become the nation’s leading tourist state. It already has unparalleled beauty and we have safeguarded its natural treasures. Some of those natural treasures have been so safeguarded no one knows about them, even in 2009. A search of the website oregonbeautiful.com for “Harney” or “Malheur” produce a message that says “sorry, no posts match your inquiry.” I am stunned that Oregon Beautiful does not recognize the incredible southeast part of the state.
By 2059, Oregon’s southeast quadrant will have been discovered and resorts built. This amazing part of the state will catapult Oregon to the top of the competition for number one tourist area.
I have mixed feelings about this because when I was young, my Explorer Post led by world-renowned photographer Ed Park, drove all over that area. We could spend all day seeing Malheur and Harney Counties and only see eight cars. Part of the beauty of the area is that there were so few people.
Unfortunately that area remains impoverished. A blogger named Nina reported last month that 14% of the elderly in Harney County live in poverty and 23% of Malheur County's children lived in poverty in 2007. This part of Oregon desperately needs an infusion. That is exactly what they’ll get when the Sustainable Highway Grid connects Reno and Spokane.
The Inviting Delights of Oregon’s Southeast Quadrant
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. It was only one of the six refuges created west of the Mississippi, half of which were in Oregon. He conceived Lake Malheur as a habitat for birds of which 320 species have been observed along with 53 species of mammals. In April and October it is a paradise for photographers and bird watchers.
Two summers ago, my wife Ann Scott went into the Lane County Historical Society and photocopied the journals of her Great-Great Grandfather Bynon Pengra. Abraham Lincoln had named Pengra Surveyor General of Oregon, and she and I traveled all over southeast Oregon with these notes as our guide.
When we came to the top of the Steens Mountain, which her Grandfather had determined to be 9766 ft, it was mind-blowing. The east side of the mountain drops off to the Alvord Desert one mile below. It rivals the Grand Canyon in sheer emotional impact.
The desert is dotted with hot springs, many of which you have to know where they are or just be lucky to find. Several land speed records have been set on the flats, and it is frequently used for parasailing, hang-gliding, hiking and other sports.
Considered part of Steens Mountain, Kiger Gorge is a huge elongated bowl that is picturesque year round but in the spring and early summer is filled with wildflowers. There are several other gorges that are part of the Steens.
The Sustainable Highway Grid will make these areas accessible to more people. This will be controversial because some of its charm is that it is still one of the great escapes from “civilization.” With conscious leadership this area can be developed much like our national parks with appropriate architecture and zoning that prevents sprawl.
Adding Oregon’s great southeast quadrant to our 363 mile fully accessible coastline, the Columbia Gorge, the Wallowa Mountains, Central Oregon and the profoundly and famously livable Portland area, it is not surprising that Oregon will become the place in the country that everyone will want to visit.
Oregon Hosts The Olympics
In 1958, while Oregon prepared for its centennial, folks in Squaw Valley, California were racing the clock trying to get their venue together for the 1960 Winter Olympics.
The work that goes in to pulling off a major event like the Olympics is huge. Housing, food, transportation, athletic venues, security, emergency preparedness, arrangements with all the national Olympic Committees, teams and athletes; nothing is left to chance.
In 1960, Joseph Boyd, my seventh grade homeroom teacher said to the class: “they should not be trying to hold this event in Squaw Valley, they are no more ready for it than we are in Bend, Oregon. Mr. Boyd was wrong. Squaw Valley didn’t dazzle the world but they pulled off a miracle considering they had one chairlift, two rope tows, and housing of only forty-nine rooms.
Now 50 years later, Bend and Oregon could hold a dazzling winter Olympics and they should. Bend sits in one of the most beautiful wonderlands in the world and with the development over the last twenty-years we could easily live up to the fantasy of Bill Healy who climbed up Bachelor Butte and skied down Mt Bachelor, and in the process created one of the premier winter sports' venues in the world. The Bend area now has everything needed to pull off a world-class Olympic event, plenty of housing, area to develop the peripheral sporting venues, transportation, proximity to Portland and integration with the future Sustainable Highway Grid.
I think Oregon is likely to land the Winter and Summer Olympics separately. We are more ready for the Winter Olympics but within the next fifty years, I believe Oregon will mount a successful bid for the Summer Olympics centered in the Eugene area.
Oregon, the headquarters of Nike and Adidas; the most-livable city, the bicycle capital; the home of the late Steve Prefontaine, dozens of Olympians, the University of Oregon, and year round track-and-field is the perfect place to host the Summer Olympics. In Eugene, one can train year round for virtually any summer event.
The Portland area can easily supplement housing in Eugene and all of the necessary services required to supply the Olympics are available only a couple hours away.
This February 14th, I have brought you four headlines.from the future. They widen the lens that many of us have been using to view Oregon's sesquicentennial, and they provide a vision that could lead Oregon into another fifty years of great living. Let's walk that trail together.