Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Delayed Metro Construction Hampers Budapest Traffic

By David Valker

With winter over, the annual season of Budapest road and transit construction is set to begin, to the chagrin of local motorists. As the building of the metroline 4 continues, several important junctions will be closed, adding to those still closed by delays in earlier construction.

Work on expanding the existing Kálvin square metro station began on February 26, but only the sidewalks were unfolded as the change of sewer lines were started. On the 5th of April, due to the rebuilding of the sewer system, the square will be closed to traffic, including trams, with only the tram-exchange buses allowed to enter. The scheduled date to give the square back to the public is the end of 2008.

Another major project is the building of a metro station at Fővám square, next to Szabadság-bridge, and Corvinus university. Initial work began on the 5th of March, and as the building of the frame starts in the middle of March, the Pest-side lower wharf will be closed to traffic. Because tram line 2 goes through this area, it is still a question how traffic will be re-routed. Construction will take approximately 6 months, authorities say. As subway lines are the indispensable veins of a city, the balk, residents must cope with the necessary negative side effects.

Unfortunately, there are more negative side effects than needed, thanks to poor planning and execution . The one possible detour to the Pest-side wharfs is the Buda-side upper wharf, which has been closed since May 15, 2006, due to the building of the Gellért square metro station. It was planned to give part of the roadway back to the public in November, 2006, but thanks to unexpected technical difficulties – such as a gas-pipe that turned up during construction, despite its absence on blueprints - the whole project is delayed. The originally scheduled end to the work was 2009 October, but as yet it is still unknown when the project company BAMCO will actually draw to a close.

The Downtown and Suburbs Traffic Association (VEKE) has claimed that DBR, the company manageing the metro station construction, should examine the links on its own website wherein foreign metro builders explain how their plans avoid difficulties for surface traffic. To which Gulyás László, leader of DBR responded: "The metro here could not be built that way. If we would start to make temporary rails for trams, that would delay the construction even more."

Péter Gábor, a traffic-expert added, "BKV should rethink the order of projects. If they close two major routes next to each other in the city, the consequences can be unpredictable. Especially if you take into account, that the Szabadság-bridge will be closed due to renovation in August."

With luck, the juice will be worth the squeeze, and Budapest’s traffic problems will be over by 2010.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Has Four Years of War Left The US Army Broken?

By Herman Lugaro

The twentieth of March, 2007, marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, a war with no certain end in sight. Each passing year, moreover, has seen an increase in the ongoing toll felt by the US Army. With constant rotation of tours, low recruitment numbers, and the growing reliance on the National Guard and reserves, a sobering question is being raised: is the Army broken?

General Colin Powell seems to think so. The former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, that he views the Army as indeed nearly broken. He explained that the current active Army and Marine Corps are not large enough for the kinds of missions they are asked to perform. He added that another problem is that soldiers - mainly experienced Officers NCOs - are being sent on repeat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan thereby causing further strain.

In December 2006, Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker told the Commission on National Guard and Reserves that the Army would have to tap into National Guard and reserves more heavily in the short term to keep up with any increased demand for troops in Iraq or other operations abroad. In the long term, the general said, the Army would have to grow. This implies that the active Army is worn thin by constant deployments, and now has to rely on the reserves and National Guard to maintain such grueling demands.

In the wake of these burdening issues comes the now infamous “troop surge”. A “surge” is executed by extending the tour of the troops already in the country, and accelerating the arrival of incoming soldiers. The last “surge” was conducted from June to the end of 2006 called Operation Forward Together, which in the long run did not help make Baghdad safer, despite its aim to do so. The Bush administration has faith that the current “surge” called New Way Forward will be successful in securing the city of Baghdad against the insurgency. The true test will come once the extra soldiers leave Baghdad, with success to be marked by a sustained decrease in attacks on Coalition forces.

According to Josh White and Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post, there’s an underscoring stress facing the armed services, as illustrated by a report from the Army that it missed its recruiting goals by 16 percent in 2006, part of a serious downward trend.

To offset its recruiting woes, the Army has increased enlistment bonuses and waivers. These include cash bonuses of up to $40,000 for enlistments of three or more years, and the Army College Fund, which provides up to $71,424 for college. Also, the number of waivers has steadily increased since 2003 allowing some applicants to be accepted who otherwise would have been rejected in past years.

“The data is crystal clear,” said Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee of Investigations and Oversight. “Our armed forces are under incredible strain, and the only way that they can fill their recruiting quotas is by lowering their standards.

Amidst these questions about the overall strength of the Army, there are at least some who take a different view. In response to the question, “is the Army broken?”, an active duty soldier - who asked to remain anonymous – had this to say:

“I do not agree with that statement, I believe that the Army is far from broken. The people who say that are not serving in the Army and what they are saying is wrong.”

When asked what he thought of serving repeat tours, the soldier said: “ Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like going back to Iraq, however that doesn’t matter, because I joined the Army on my own free will, and I have a job to do.”

Four years of war in Iraq is the main reason for the worry over the readiness and overall strength of the Army. There is a definite strain put on armed service personnel both professionally and personally when trying to complete the strenuous tasks given to them. Yet even with all of the problems facing the Army, there is still hope for a positive outcome, thanks to an Army made up of extraordinary people who volunteer to risk their lives, and others who pay the ultimate price honoring their commitment to the Army and their country.