As Hillary Clinton famously said in 2004, “We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.”
Little things, like paved roadways, for instance.
This Wall Street Journal article from Saturday titled “Roads to Ruin: Towns Rip Up the Pavement” sounds like something out of Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man book on the 1930s. And yet, in spite of FDR’s best efforts to make hash of the economy, there were still plenty of massive, forward-thinking construction projects such as the Hoover Dam, the TVA, the Triborough Bridge and assorted roadways that were built back then. But flash-forward to the era of the MSM’s would-be second FDR, and backwards runs the progress, until reeled the mind:
A hulking yellow machine inched along Old Highway 10 here recently in a summer scene that seemed as normal as the nearby corn swaying in the breeze. But instead of laying a blanket of steaming blacktop, the machine was grinding the asphalt road into bits.
“When [counties] had lots of money, they paved a lot of the roads and tried to make life easier for the people who lived out here,” said Stutsman County Highway Superintendant Mike Zimmerman, sifting the dusty black rubble through his fingers. “Now, it’s catching up to them.”
Outside this speck of a town, pop. 78, a 10-mile stretch of road had deteriorated to the point that residents reported seeing ducks floating in potholes, Mr. Zimmerman said. As the road wore out, the cost of repaving became too great. Last year, the county spent $400,000 on an RM300 Caterpillar rotary mixer to grind the road up, making it look more like the old homesteader trail it once was.
Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.
In Michigan, at least 38 of the 83 counties have converted some asphalt roads to gravel in recent years. Last year, South Dakota turned at least 100 miles of asphalt road surfaces to gravel. Counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania have begun downgrading asphalt roads to cheaper chip-and-seal road, also known as “poor man’s pavement.” Some counties in Ohio are simply letting roads erode to gravel.
The moves have angered some residents because of the choking dust and windshield-cracking stones that gravel roads can kick up, not to mention the jarring “washboard” effect of driving on rutted gravel.
But higher taxes for road maintenance are equally unpopular. In June, Stutsman County residents rejected a measure that would have generated more money for roads by increasing property and sales taxes.
“I’d rather my kids drive on a gravel road than stick them with a big tax bill,” said Bob Baumann, as he sipped a bottle of Coors Light at the Sportsman’s Bar Café and Gas in Spiritwood.
Rebuilding an asphalt road today is particularly expensive because the price of asphalt cement, a petroleum-based material mixed with rocks to make asphalt, has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Gravel becomes a cheaper option once an asphalt road has been neglected for so long that major rehabilitation is necessary.
“A lot of these roads have just deteriorated to the point that they have no other choice than to turn them back to gravel,” says Larry Galehouse, director of the National Center for Pavement Preservation at Michigan State University. Still, “we’re leaving an awful legacy for future generations.”
Some experts caution that gravel roads can be costlier in the long run than consistently maintained asphalt because gravel needs to be graded and smoothed. A gravel road “is not a free road,” says Purdue University’s John Habermann, who organized a recent seminar about the resurgence of gravel roads titled “Back to the Stone Age.”
(Meanwhile, at the intersection of reprimitivization and automobiles in France, things are much worse, as those pesky “youths” are back for another round of car-b-ques; this time spiced up with automatic weapons.)
Update: Moe Lane runs the numbers.