I'm in Europe for a few days in part to examine how countriesthere are dealing with infrastructure solutions to keep themcompetitive in the future. New infrastructure can become a big lossleader. In the U.S. we can point to Boston's "Big Dig" -- itsbillions of dollars in cost overruns and leaking tunnels. Butthe new road, tunnel and bridge system has transformed Boston'sfinancial district and arguably helps position the city forlong-term growth.

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The 32-mile long English Channel tunnel (the Chunnel) is anotherexample of huge infrastructure expense overruns and operatingdeficits. Completed in 1994, the Chunnel cost $21 billion toconstruct in a titanic engineering feat to bore the world's longestunderwater tunnel. Chunnel operators, meanwhile, continue toregister large (though declining) annual deficits for freight andpassenger service between England and the Continent. Payingoff debt is a huge anchor and high charges discourage some use.

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Still, the Chunnel's future value to the UK and France appearsconsiderable, especially now with introduction of high speedpassenger train service from London to Paris and Brussels. Thetrips take two hours plus center city to center city. No more hourlong cab rides to and from airports and potential weather delays ininclement Northern European climates. In fact, plane trips betweenthe cities have dropped dramatically, and the train has become thefavored form of intercity transport -- it's just faster and moreconvenient or in other words more efficient and counter-intuitivelymore 21st century. Yes, in a retro sense, railways may offer morefuturistic solutions to congestion and pollution problems thancontinued dependency on our two most significant and transformative20th century inventions -- cars and planes.

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Now, the United States needs to get its act together and makethe necessary investments in creating high speed train corridorsalong the East and West Coasts and within other high growthstates/regions (Texas, Florida). The challenges and politicalimpediments will be huge, not to mention the costs -- manymultiples of a Chunnel or Big Dig. But can America afford to dependon clogged roads, which can make trips to the airport longer thanscheduled flight times to destination cities, and on airports thatcan't handle increasing demand for flight slots? The country alsoneeds freight train corridors to help relieve congestion andpollution from over-reliance on truckers. The alternative iseventually gridlocked transport and the costs to the economy willbe prohibitive. If we continue to stand pat the rest of the worldcould literally leave us behind.

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© Miller Ryan LLC 2008

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Jonathan D. Miller

A marketing communication strategist who turned to real estate analysis, Jonathan D. Miller is a foremost interpreter of 21st citistate futures – cities and suburbs alike – seen through the lens of lifestyles and market realities. For more than 20 years (1992-2013), Miller authored Emerging Trends in Real Estate, the leading commercial real estate industry outlook report, published annually by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). He has lectures frequently on trends in real estate, including the future of America's major 24-hour urban centers and sprawling suburbs. He also has been author of ULI’s annual forecasts on infrastructure and its What’s Next? series of forecasts. On a weekly basis, he writes the Trendczar blog for GlobeStreet.com, the real estate news website. Outside his published forecasting work, Miller is a prominent communications/institutional investor-marketing strategist and partner in Miller Ryan LLC, helping corporate clients develop and execute branding and communications programs. He led the re-branding of GMAC Commercial Mortgage to Capmark Financial Group Inc. and he was part of the management team that helped build Equitable Real Estate Investment Management, Inc. (subsequently Lend Lease Real Estate Investments, Inc.) into the leading real estate advisor to pension funds and other real institutional investors. He joined the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S. in 1981, moving to Equitable Real Estate in 1984 as head of Corporate/Marketing Communications. In the 1980's he managed relations for several of the country's most prominent real estate developments including New York's Trump Tower and the Equitable Center. Earlier in his career, Miller was a reporter for Gannett Newspapers. He is a member of the Citistates Group and a board member of NYC Outward Bound Schools and the Center for Employment Opportunities.