I like to drive. The roar of a great big engine on the open road is one of my favorite things.
But here’s something I’ve come to understand: Just because I like it doesn’t mean I – or you – get to do it.
You see, we can’t afford all those big open roads here in America anymore. Not if we want a reasonable standard of living otherwise, that is.
I’m not saying we all need to turn in our car keys. America is a car culture. I get that. But it’s time for governments – from Congress to your local city hall – to start decommissioning roads and shelving new road projects. Paving a mile of four-lane highway can cost upwards of a half a million dollars. There are counties around the nation with road repair backlogs in the billions (yes, with a “b”) of dollars.
The picture at the top of this article is of a county road near me that’s about two miles long. It’s basically a shortcut between a heavily-traveled state highway and another county road. On both sides of this stretch there is nothing but swamp. No homes, no businesses, just snakes, gators, grass and trees. I love to drive it – slowly, for the sake of my car – because I love the scenery. Of course, it’s paralleled by a bike path about 100 feet away, so if I really want to get a good look, I can walk or cycle.
Nature is already decommissioning this road for us. But we’re eventually going to take hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars away from better internet service, from feeding and housing homeless children, from public safety, from education, etc. … to rebuild this road.
That’s a bad idea. But who’s going to be the elected official who recommends shutting down roads?
Get off the interstate and drive a four-lane rural highway near you sometime. Try two or three and you’re bound to find at least one pristine, state-of-the-art road with no one else on it. Why? Becuase some congressperson or state legislator “brought home the bacon” and made her constituents happy by growing some new lanes on the local back-road.
Unfortunately, if those same elected officials decided to fight for money for your local bus system or bike path they’d be the target of a well-funded PAC complaining that they were throwing tax money away on uneccesary projects.
This picture is one of my favorites. It’s a state road – paid for by the good people of Florida – and there’s clearly meant to be more of it but somehow the “more” didn’t make it out of the woods. That’s tens of thousands of dollars you’re looking at right there.
Across the street from this road to/from nowhere is a park and ride lot. Normally I love park and ride lots. They make it easier to use public transportation, right? Except that this one (again, funded with the taxes of the people of Florida) is about ten miles from the reaches of the nearest public transportation. And no, there are no plans to run buses out there anytime soon.
But you can bet the state rep who shepherded that project through the state budget process has been lauded for bringing home the bacon.
If we’re serious about using taxpayer funds responsibly, we have to talk about our addiction to roads. We need to think about what we could have done with the money we used to build a two-mile shortcut and a road to nowhere. And we need to remember that it’s our money and our responsibility to see that it’s used wisely. Tell your local, state and federal elected officials you’re ready to take the long way home and to spend that road money on something that matters.