About twenty-five years ago, my father, brother and myself grabbed a bite at a Burger King in Washington, D.C., on our way home from dropping my mother off at National Airport. While we were eating our meal, a woman in an adjacent booth interjected herself into the conversation. She held in her hand a crude map of the United States, with lines linking together major cities in the South. In hindsight, and in conversation years later with my father, it was clear this woman suffered from mental illness.
As this woman started to discuss her map in detail, I was highly intrigued. I hung on her every word. The crude map drawn on the back of a napkin was a "subway" map connecting Atlanta to Birmingham, Dallas, Nashville, and other major cities South of the Mason-Dixon line. I loved riding Metro, so this idea seemed revolutionary and awesome to my young mind. My father, in his trademark way, engaged this woman as if her proposal was serious. When she asked what my father thought such a project might cost to build, without skipping a beat or a change in his voice, he calmly replied, "about three-hundred-trillion dollars." He even went into detail about the permitting process, the environmental impact studies, and the eminent domain questions that would be raised. To the would-be civil engineer and planning director raised her brows, and laid back into her booth with a look of true understanding and satisfaction. "That sounds about right. Thank you. Now, I've got work to do." she responded.
300 Trillion in 1989 dollars is roughly 53 times that year's GDP, but yet that figure seemed reasonable to her. The funny thing is, the idea of a rapid transit network among southern cities still sounds really appealing to me, even if living down south isn't. So while that dream will never be a reality, thankfully transit map designer Cameron Booth has drawn a transit-style map of U.S. highways and interstates for our viewing pleasure.