A NEW NEW DEAL

Travel Projects Get a Tax-Funded Boost

Federal cash will change how we travel, a bit like the way FDR's plans reshaped cities and parks during the Great Depression. Here's a look forward and back.

By Brad Tuttle, Thursday, May 21, 2009, 4:52 PM

NOW

Trains, High-Speed and Otherwise
Rail advocates are hoping stimulus money brings the country up to speed with the super-fast, high-tech train systems used overseas. (For a by-the-numbers comparison, read The Fastest Trains on the Track.) Federal funds may be used for rail improvements and expansions in the Chicago area, for a new subway line along 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, and for a Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., among other projects. The plan to build California's ambitious 800-mile-long high-speed line is already in motion: It will connect San Diego to Sacramento, via Los Angeles and San Francisco, with trains traveling up to 220 miles per hour. By 2030, the line is expected to carry 117 million passengers annually—and to carry them more quickly and cheaply than cars or planes.

NextGen Air Traffic Control
Gridlock in the sky and at airports is only expected to worsen if the Federal Aviation Administration's outmoded air traffic control system isn't improved. The good news is that the FAA has a planned fix—NextGen, a system enhancement that incorporates satellite-based technology and innovations in communications and weather forecasting. The improvements should not only help increase efficiency, but also prevent accidents and reduce planes' fuel consumption, emissions, and noise. Initial steps are being taken this year (faa.gov/about/initiatives/nextgen).

Airport Upgrades
Nationwide, airports are feeling the stimulus bill's impact, with runways being built or repaired and new roads being built around airports in Baltimore, Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Manchester, N.H., to name a few. At Dulles, D.C.'s biggest airport, a new 23-mile rail line is being built with the help of federal money. When completed (in 2013, if it's on schedule), it'll connect Northern Virginia and the airport to downtown D.C. via a Metro line.

Hudson World Bridge
It's not remotely "shovel-ready," but here's hoping. More than a means of crossing the Hudson River, the proposed bridge would be a destination—the marquee attraction on a revamped waterfront, and a symbol of New York City regaining its edge. In architect Eytan Kaufman's vision, the bridge would extend roughly above the Lincoln Tunnel, connecting New Jersey to midtown Manhattan. Above the roadway, the mile-long, 250-foot-wide bridge would have two dramatic features: the 500,000-square-foot Green Park, and, hanging above it, the capsule-shaped Cloud, a 1-million-square-foot exhibition space that would host galleries, trade shows, and events. Who wouldn't want to attend a party in a cloud (hudsonworldbridge.com).

THEN

Roswell Museum and Art Center, New Mexico
An adobe museum built by the Works Progress Administration is now known as Founders' Gallery, just one branch of an expanded arts center with works by Georgia O'Keeffe and other Southwestern artists. This is the famed "UFO Capital of the World," and much of the interest focuses on visitors of another kind—the third kind. Festivities peak around the Fourth of July in Roswell, where extraterrestrials are as American as apple pie. The UFO Festival takes over that weekend, and the series of events in the museum's adjoining planetarium includes laser shows and talks with titles like "The ETs: Where Are They?" Kids, adults, and even pets face off in the annual Alien Costume Contest, held July 3 this year (575/624-6744, roswellmuseum.org, free).

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
In 1935, President Roosevelt visited the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew building Skyline Drive, the scenic road that runs through Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. Roosevelt was so pleased he authorized the construction of another mountain-topping road: the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects Shenandoah to North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are more than 200 scenic overlooks and parking areas, and 100 hiking trails spur off of the road, including the Appalachian Trail. Building the Blue Ridge was slow going, especially because crews worked carefully to blend the roadway into its natural surroundings. By design, there are no white lines on the sides of the road, which helps to retain the rural feel (nps.gov/blri/).

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado
Mother Nature gave this spot 15 miles west of Denver a head start at being the perfect concert setting. A pair of 300-foot-high red sandstone monoliths provide not only ideal acoustics but a dramatic, one-of-a-kind backdrop to boot. Installing seating and a stage, workers built a legendary venue that's hosted everyone from The Beatles to U2. The eclectic lineup for summer 2009 includes the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Flight of the Conchords, and an '80s extravaganza featuring REO Speedwagon and Styx. Tip: Bring a seat cushion to avoid a sore backside in the bleachers (720/865-2494, redrocksonline.com).

Timberline Lodge, Oregon
The 70-room Timberline Lodge sits 6,000 feet above sea level—which sounds high until you realize it's only midway up the slope of 11,245-foot Mount Hood. Thanks to this elevation, the mountain resort has North America's longest ski season, attracting snowboarders all summer long with terrain parks and half-pipes. Many visitors make the hour drive from Portland to take in the views here—especially from the lodge's Ram's Head Bar, where huge panoramic windows look out onto the iconic, snow-covered peak. If you feel vaguely creeped out when approaching the lodge, there's reason: The exterior shows up in the terrifying Stanley Kubrick film The Shining, based on the Stephen King novel (800/547-1406, timberlinelodge.com, doubles with bunk beds from $115).

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Depression-era workers carved out more than 28,000 miles of trails in state and national parks. Grand Canyon projects alone put over a 1,000 CCC enrollees to work. Among the paths they either built from scratch or improved in and around the Grand Canyon are the Clear Creek, Ribbon Falls, Upper Ribbon Falls, Kaibab, Bright Angel, and Colorado River trails. Today, parks advocates and groups such as the Rails- to- Trails Conservancy are hoping stimulus money will fund another round of improvements to trails and recreation areas and create as many as 50,000 jobs (928/638-7888, nps.gov/grca).

Bethpage State Park Golf Course, New York
In mid-June, the U.S. Open returns to Bethpage's Black Course, one of five public courses constructed as WPA projects at this state park. Since the Black Course hosted the 2002 U.S. Open, getting to play on the ultra-challenging course is akin to scoring Bruce Springsteen tickets; die-hard duffers camp in line overnight for first-come, first-served tee times. (Select tee times can also be reserved over the phone a few days in advance, but that's hit or miss.) Golfers pay $100 weekdays, $120 weekends for the privilege of playing, though New York State residents get a half-price discount. Those with a high handicap might want to play 18 holes at one of the other courses, which start at $36 (516/249-0707, nysparks.state.ny.us/golf).

NATIONAL TREASURE