Can we afford to maintain our roads?

Road-repairs

Everyone who lives in the more northerly states can already see the work to maintain, repair and construct roads winding down. Winter is coming and, as temperatures drop, it’s less safe to continue the work. Concrete does not set so reliably, Cracks can appear when summer warms up the roads’ foundations. So all those annoying delays as you were desperate to get someplace will be gone until the snow falls and the ice forms — although that always seems more bearable because you are still moving. Just think, months without any headaches. . .

Well, if there were potholes in the roads and they were not repaired, they could soon be covered in soft snow and, if you hit one at speed, your front suspension could be bent out of shape. That’s not going to go down so well when you remember you only have liability insurance cover. Even with collision and comprehensive cover, does the wording of the policy cover damage caused by a defective road surface?

Anyway, the point here is the bigger picture. Almost every state in the nation is facing budget deficits. With funds in short supply, it’s difficult to establish the priorities for spending.

For example, which are the more important between the police, the fire service, the teachers and the road builders? As a step to answering this question, let’s go to Minnesota. This November has seen the Department of Transport putting in its budget request for the next financial year. Commissioner Charles Zelle is looking for an addition $50 billion to begin solving problems with the transport infrastructure. Zelle’s brief includes not only the highways and ordinary roads, but also rail and air travel. Breaking the global figure down, that means spending $5 billion to maintain and repair the existing roads and bridges.

If you want to look into the future, work is needed to build new roads to relieve congestion and replace dangerously old bridges. With plans already approved, the budget calls for $12 billion to begin work next year.

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Look around America and you see two things happening. Work on rural and less-traveled roads is going to the back of the queue. This may be justifiable in low population states, but it’s potentially dangerous in states with a high traffic density. When we come to bridges, there are tens of thousands which are now classified as deficient, i.e. they should be closed and replaced. With the revenue from the tax on gas falling, there’s no money to do this work. The result could be devastating as more literally fall down.

Without additional tax revenue coming in, there are some hard choices to be made. Hot-button issues like pensions for law enforcement and fire service retirees dominate and no one wants to talk about our crumbling road system. If this head-in-the-sand attitude does not change soon, we will have no reliable roads to drive on.

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