Friday, May 11, 2012

The Costs of Not Spending Money on Roads

One of the major problems with this country's current political system, and this is true in many other countries, is how politicians exert power over a large number of fields in which they have little knowledge. Transportation is, of course, one such field. This isn't the 19th century where it was easier to be a master of many disciplines; knowledge today is more specialized and experts more specific in their skills. The people in charge of funding transportation have no idea how to do it effectively.

Case in point -- a recent article from points to research that states our poorly maintained roads are costing the average licensed driver $324 a year from repairs and other effects. Few people really think about this, but by not spending money in many cases it can cost you even more money down the line. Influenced by the "tea party," the state of politics right now is to slash and burn government spending, hoping it cuts the federal and state deficits and (somehow) frees the economy. The problem is that cutting more money from the transportation system won't make it more efficient; it could destroy the infrastructure on which our economy has a heavy reliance. Rebuilding from scratch is even more expensive (in most cases.)

The article also mentions that the Portland Bureau of Transportation rates 26% of its roads are poor or very
condition. This not only affects the average commuter but commercial industries who need the roads to deliver food, other supplies and bikes to Portland residents. You can't have a fourth of your roads failing, and you aren't going to save money by not fixing them. This isn't even an issue you can argue about.

Crawling out of a deficit means you have to make wise investments and use you money wisely. Keeping the infrastructure well-maintained is one of those wise investments so you don't have an entire fleet of cars used by citizens, the government and private industry slowly wrecked by potholes and disintegrating pavement. It's why you buy a case for your camera -- in the long run it'll save you money because the expensive equipment won't be damaged.

How do you make up this gap? One proposal calls for the federal gas tax to be increased from 18.4 cents to 29. Although it seems like a big jump ultimately it would not be ground-shattering -- ten cents out of 4 dollar a gallon gas versus the 18.4 cents we had when gas was near one dollar a gallon is not the same rate of change. The tax has lost 33% of its power due to inflation, which should tell you why so many roads are in terrible condition. And, believe me, I'm the type of (poor) user who's hurt by small price changes. This is one the country can survive.

Unfortunately, politics will make any sort of rational funding a pipe dream. The best hope is that the situation will get so bad it can't be ignored. It's a bright future.

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