The Free Freeways

Excerpts from “Asphalt Veins – The Freeway States” Published in NEWStream and syndicated to all ReutAssoc membersites (retrieved December 21 2012 @ 13:34).

Ysterplaat Airshow 2008
Creative Commons License photo credit: mallix

It was no great surprise when the highways seceded.

A decade of inadequate funding, a Federal system collapsed in all but name, and a growing trend towards autonomy by the megacities left a vacuum in transportation policy that demanded to be filled. Public funding gave way to tolls which gave way to privatization which gave way to a network of roadways with little loyalty to the faded Union and a vested interest in maintaining the exclusive safety of their limited territories.

The seeds of the secession were sewn in, of all places, Afghanistan. Amongst the unconquerable mountains was waged an eternal game of cat and mouse. Pitting patrols against insurgents and drones against IEDs, the military demonstrated that even if you couldn’t control the territory, you could keep the roads clear. Much as with flack-jackets and APCs, it was a matter of time before drone hardware trickled down into law enforcement and private security.

In the past, borders had been fixed to natural geographic or political points. If they weren’t cut along a mountain range or a coastline, they were drawn along the arbitrary geometric divisions of longitude and latitude. These conveniences for cartographers and generals were 20th century relics.

Automated smart-defences changed the rules. Borders of arbitrary complexity became possible, as demonstrated by the almost fractal Jerusalem Solution. The new question became whether a territory was worth defending. For the Freeway States, the calculation shifted to tolls, traffic levels, and ROI per mile.

There were missteps on the road to independence. The I87’s disastrous “We need to secede to succeed” campaign springs immediately to mind.

But try as they might to ease the process, borders always cause friction, reducing traffic and further starving road-side communities of income and tourism. A trend evident in the increasing destitution of the “drive-thru states”.

To attempt to draw a political map of the reconstituted North America is to confront these contradictions head-on. What counts as a nation? How to capture the overlapping spheres of responsibility? What about the areas all but abandoned to wilderness? Does membership confer citizen-hood?

Here, in what used to be Arizona, the new owners of I40 are experimenting with a new security model. In a stretch of route that has been notoriously difficult to keep profitably clear, tolls vary inversely with the recency of patrols.

The idea is simple: Display the time of the latest sweep prominently and offer a discount as the safety rating goes stale.

“It’s a way to give drivers the choice,” explains Chaz Ferrari, head of security and spokesman for the route’s President, “If they are in a hurry, or feel that they can protect themselves, they can take a cheap trip. We let the market decide.”