I’m just back from a two-week trip in a rented RV with my dog Lily to attend a murder mystery convention called Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe. Lot of driving.
The Interstate highway network was a massive public works project instituted by Dwight Eisenhower in the 50’s with a view of making it easier for Americans to visit Grandma on the East Coast or drive to this new place, Disneyland, in California. I can remember Dina Shore singing, “Drive Your Chevrolet, See the USA.” Of course, the Interstate Highway network made good sense as a way to move military resources around to defend the nation. U.S. auto manufacturers lobbied for it as well. I’ve never given too much thought to the roadways as an infrequent highway traveler. Until now.
Those of us who live near The Grapevine Summit in California see cars and big rigs switching, lane to lane, trying to find a piece of pavement without a pothole or a sunken patch. It’s a jiggling, jouncing, rattling ride.
Turns out it’s not only in California, which in one woman’s humble opinion, was the worst of the three states I drove through in terms of a rattling ride. Near the California/Arizona border single lanes have been repaired for a quarter mile or so, each ending with a bone-jarring strip of what feels like a corduroy road.
Maybe it’s just one grouchy old lady in a worn out, rented RV banging along, the dog bouncing on the seat next to her. We have a transportation crisis in California stemming from our inability to repair and maintain our existing road, highway and transit systems, a physical infrastructure that amounts to a combined investment of over $1 trillion statewide as of 2011. Most of these needed repairs exist on local roads and streets and throughout the state’s public transit systems. Current estimates place the total backlog of pavement repair costs on local streets and roads at around $10.5 billion, an amount that is increasing by about $400 million a year.
Take a look at the table showing California’s Crumbling Roads and Bridges. Wow! Build more roads is suggested as the answer to traffic congestion. But people who spend their lives studying traffic patterns say that isn’t the answer.
Rest stops are closed as well. Tough budget cuts are forcing the closure of seven of nine Inland Empire rest stops along California freeways as of September 2010. And, used to be, the Highway Patrol was a visible presence. Not any more on Interstate 40 all the way to New Mexico.
Gas in Arizona and New Mexico is around $3.50 a gallon. I know, I know, that gas costs more in California because we remove some of the airborne-toxicity. But can you believe for a moment that the price of gas is not politically manipulated?
So what am I grousing about this time?
The sinking feeling often washes over me that things that we took for granted like good roads, clean air, safe banks, and the security of a safety net beneath us will never come again. The roads are falling apart. We can’t afford to fix them. What then about bridges, airports, air traffic control systems, aging sewer systems, and communication networks?
Do you know that the Forest Service hesitates before making arrests in wilderness areas because the radios are so antiquated the arresting officers can find themselves asking for back up and talking to dead air?
My friends Paul and Sarah Edwards work way too hard creating momentum for a group called Let’s Live Local. The intent is to set up a network of self-maintaining small communities. We live in a remote mountain area of villages linked by a two-lane county road. I left town a day before The Storm of the Century hit in late March, knocking down power poles, branches weighted with snow cracking off, trees falling on cars and creating berms chest high, and frigid houses without power for days.
The infrastructure for dealing with Mother Nature’s swishing her skirts from time to time is falling apart.
Yet last year, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, while the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people fell by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion.
Don’t tell me there’s no money.
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