Most of you already know my passion for aviation. For the past 24 years, I've been a licensed pilot and have over my lifetime accumulated almost 1,200 hours of flight time. As with most things, keeping your license and ability to fly requires on-going recurrent training and medical exams. As I prepare for my "bi-annual" flight check next month, I've been reading some literature on crashes and the human factors that cause them. One stuck out to me that has an application well beyond aviation.
When I talk human factors and overall fitness for flight, it includes the obvious things such as illness, medication, alcohol and fatigue. But it also includes things that might not sound as important like stress and emotion. And one common (and sometimes fatal) component driven by stress and emotion is what many refer to as "get-there-itis."
If you Google that term, you find hundreds of articles. Titles like "The Un-Awesome Pilot Killer" and "Get-there-itis kills two" make it pretty obvious that it's not a good thing. So what is it?
In simple terms, I'd describe it as almost an obsession that places a high priority on completing the task (in this case, a flight) while discounting, or sometimes even ignoring, other (flight-related) issues that would otherwise delay or possibly cancel it. And since we know most accidents aren't caused by just one event, but rather a chain of events, you're just asking for trouble when this happens.
Normally, planning for a flight can take several hours. That includes a review of the mechanical systems of the aircraft to make sure they are working. It also includes a briefing for weather as well as one for any reported problems along the way such as navigation outages or runway closings. In other words, there's a lot more to it than just picking a destination, looking up at the sky, seeing the sun, and deciding to go!
But get-there-itis isn't limited to flying. One example that comes to mind was the railroad crossing closing fiasco in early 2009. I was told by a former MoDOT director – "Sometimes, you just have to close 'em and move on" – indicating to me that the desire and push to close them was being done with little or no regard to public input or the impact the closing may have on the community (see Kay Hively's column from 3/31/2013 for an example.) In other words, it was done without much planning and understanding of the whole picture.
I'm also wondering if there's been a bit of get-there-itis happening with the Neosho TDD. Just two weeks ago, MoDOT officials spoke at the middle school and said nothing else would be done this year on the remaining projects because of the legal issues (aka the "flaw") that remain unresolved. They would hope to complete it next year with a bid and build all to happen within "one construction season." But yet there is a big push for the city to withdraw its legal challenge immediately so work "can begin." And there's ALWAYS been the push of "we've gotta build it before we lose the money."
Page 2 of 2 - Let's remember this – nothing that happens in the next few days or few weeks will make those remaining projects happen any sooner. We have some time to make sure we've got all of the planning done and know that all of our related issues are resolved. I've said many, many times that the TDD projects could be great for Neosho. But the potential impact to the city (if the TDD's flaw isn't addressed) could be hundreds of thousands of dollars of unfunded maintenance costs that the city would have to pay – funds that right now are to be paid by the TDD to the city over the next 20 years. If those roads are built, but the funding is somehow stopped due to this flaw, the city would still be on the hook to maintain them – even though we already struggle to maintain the roads we have. This point is often lost in the highlights and articles on the subject. For me, it's not a power struggle. It's not a protest of the project. It's a financial reality that could severely hurt the city's pocket book if it's not done right and a reality that needs a clear answer and outcome to move forward. We've seen what financial realities have done to Neosho in the past…I won't stand by and let that happen again.
So let's all agree that growth and investment in Neosho is a good thing. Let's all agree that the TDD project list includes some things that should help Neosho grow. But let's not fall into the trap of get-there-itis, pushing to do a "good" project, while failing to understand all of the factors in play that need to be considered and reviewed as we plan this next trip in Neosho's future.
Crappie should be biting soon. I'm heading to the lake tonight in hopes of filling my stringer. The garden is plowed. The tomatoes will go in Sunday. I hope that spring is finally here!
Until next time: stay the course, keep the faith, and may God bless Neosho.
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.