A couple of weekends ago, I travelled with my two little ones and my parents to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park located just past Middlesboro in South East Kentucky. It was a beautiful day - the kids played in waterfalls, looked for bear, and checked out an old iron furnace. We all also took a little hike on a well maintained, but increasingly difficult trail.
As the incline of the trail gradually rose, my little ones began to tire and complain and ask to be carried. My mother - the most patient woman on earth - encouraged them by telling stories about her childhood. She told my children how she and her brothers used to walk to school each day on an old cattle path that was steeper and rougher than the hiking path we were using. At the time, that was the only real road in and out of the area where she lived. My little ones, who've travelled more at their young ages than most people, listened as my mother detailed a time when access to your everyday needs wasn't guaranteed.
As we made our way back to our car to take yet another ride through the 25 tunnel, I couldn't help but think about the impact of having access - roads, airports, rail lines, transit, and riverports - to get what you needed to you and to get where you needed to be.
As a young girl in rural Kentucky in the mid 1950's, my mother and many other young children had to walk miles on a desolate path to school. The roads they traveled on were little more than ruts cut into the side of a hill and could be impassable at times due to weather. They had access to school and medical care, but it was not guaranteed.
The area where my mother grew up - and quite frankly the whole state of Kentucky - has made incredible improvements in our infrastructure since the 1950's. From our airports, railroads, and riverports to our incredible road and bridge network that connects the city roads to our rural secondary roads - Kentuckians from all walks of life and all corners of the state are not isolated from the rest of the world.
Over the years Kentucky has built an enviable transportation network that connects our state to the rest of the world. Our roads, bridges, airports, ports, and transit provide our manufacturers with a dependable way to move their freight (we're third in the nation in auto manufacturing and third in the nation in freight movement via air). Daily it seems there is a manufacturer moving to Kentucky orexpanding their existing facility. Our kids are graduating from high school at increased rates every year. In 1950 the national graduation rate was 59% while in 2015 it was 85% in Kentucky. I know several factors were involved in the increased graduation rate, but providing safe, dependable access to school certainly played a role. And unemployment is down year over year in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training. None of those gains are entirely due to transportation - but none of them would have happened if we didn't have an interconnected transportation network.
As we finished our final ride through the 25 tunnel, an engineering and construction marvel, I asked my kids if they'd like to go back to the 1950's and live like their Mamaw did when she was a little girl.
What do you think they said?
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