Wicked Problems – Transportation and How It Affects Us with Tony Pratte

Transportation is a wicked problem that touches every aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not. It affects what we have on our dinner tables, the clothes we wear, and everything we have inside our homes. It even affects where we work, how we get there, and how we spend our vacations. Yet, we tend to take it for granted.

I’m Marla, the Green Home Coach, coming to you live from Shock City Studios in St. Louis, Missouri. I am delighted to have my occasional co-host, Tony Pratte, join me today to discuss the wicked problems surrounding transportation.

The transportation system is undeniably complex and multifaceted. I invite you to listen in as we journey through the evolving world of our transportation system and explore the wicked problems it presents.

Impact of COVID-19 

The absence of commuters and students traveling to school during the pandemic highlighted a significant shift in how we perceive transportation. I found it eye-opening to see the streets resembling quiet Sunday mornings when it used to be rush hour.

Electric Cars and Infrastructure

A noticeable change after the pandemic has been the proliferation of electric cars, even in states like Oklahoma, traditionally associated with fossil fuels. The increasing presence of electric vehicles is encouraging. But we must recognize that the infrastructure to support them is evolving, and supply chains for materials like copper and lithium must grow exponentially to meet the 2035 EV goals.


Mining, especially overseas, raises concerns about environmental and ethical practices. Those considerations are essential as we make the shift to electric transportation.

Transparency in the Supply Chain

Many pieces get hidden from the average consumer within the supply chain for energy and transportation. With both gasoline for cars and the materials used in the batteries of electric vehicles, transparency remains a challenge. We need better labeling and reporting to know where our products come from, because that awareness allows us to make informed choices, not only for environmental reasons but also to support ethical and responsible sourcing.

Public Transportation

The lack of robust public transportation networks, especially in the Midwest and Southeastern United States, forces many to rely on personal vehicles. However, expanding and improving public transportation could significantly reduce congestion, pollution, and the need for massive parking lots in urban areas. Achieving a well-balanced transportation system that combines individual and public options remains a challenge yet to be overcome.

Walkable Cities

The issues with transportation issue also extend to city planning and the use of land. Deciding whether we want to continue sacrificing valuable space for parking lots or promote walkable cities that will reduce our reliance on cars is a balancing act, and the choices we make today will have consequences for future generations. This complexity highlights the need for thoughtful, integrated solutions, considering the environment, society, and economics.

Maintaining Existing Infrastructure

We often rush into building new infrastructure before adequately maintaining existing systems. We must prioritize maintenance and repair to ensure the longevity of our transportation networks and reduce costs and environmental impact in the long run. In essence, addressing the wicked problem of transportation requires a multifaceted approach, incorporating sustainability, ethical considerations, and urban planning for a better future.

 Transportation Maintenance

Maintenance for transportation still tends to get overlooked in the planning process, leaving far-reaching implications. It is easier to secure funds for capital budgets than to get funding for ongoing operational expenses. Capital expenditures have the allure of job creation and development, making them more appealing to budget approvers. Unfortunately, maintenance often falls by the wayside despite its critical role in preserving and extending the life of our transportation systems.

Unforeseen Consequences

The bias towards capital expenditure, driven by political and economic factors, is concerning. When creating impressive new structures gets prioritized, it is easy to lose sight of the need to maintain existing systems. The consequences of this negligence are evident on the roads. A simple blowout caused by the poor condition of a road can lead to severe consequences, from inconvenience to accidents and increased healthcare costs. That is a stark reminder of the vital role of maintenance in ensuring our safety and well-being.

Extreme Weather and Infrastructure Challenges

Many regions, like St. Louis and Oklahoma City, face extreme weather conditions that wreak havoc on their transportation infrastructure. Asphalts expand and contract under temperature extremes, creating fissures and potholes. These constant shifts necessitate research into more resilient road materials that can withstand the stresses.

Shifting Transportation Modes 

Considering the most efficient modes for moving goods is crucial. Shifting from road transportation to rail can reduce the number of trucks on the road and the associated pollution. Trains are known for their economical and environmentally friendly tonnage transportation, as they can carry a considerable load with minimal fuel consumption. Exploring the potential for rail transportation can significantly impact the overall efficiency of our transportation systems.

Collaborative Planning

Transportation decisions should prioritize the greater good, not the preferences of the few. Fostering collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including federal and local governments, businesses, and the general public, remains a challenge. Those stakeholders often vie for their share of the transportation budget, further complicating the decision-making process. Budget allocation is influenced by political interests, so the focus must shift from individual gains to what is best for the collective community. We need a comprehensive master plan that does not cater to personal preferences or political influence.

The Complexity of Transportation

Transportation is a wicked problem that is more intricate than housing and buildings. The many parties involved, from government agencies to private industries, and the relentless battle for funding require a multifaceted approach.


The wicked problem of transportation demands our unwavering attention and collaboration to ensure a safer, more efficient future for all.

Have a great green day!

Links and resources

Green Home Coach Workshop – How to Sell the Value of Green Homes and Features 

How do All Electric Cars Work

Building the electric-vehicle charging infrastructure America needs

The EV Battery Supply Chain Explained – RMI

Transportation Trends 2022-2023 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics