A Major Bump in the Road
Posted on Nov 16, 2011
Much rides on America’s highways, vital arteries in the movement of people and goods. The problem is, the roads are crumbling at a time when money to fix them is hard to come by.
Without pointing fingers or naming names, Gizmodo reporter Rachel Swaby focuses our attention on one key aspect of the quiet crisis of America’s crumbling infrastructure.
Road-building is a kind of prediction game that tries to balance initial construction cost with continuing maintenance. Build a very thick road with a solid foundation—like what the Germans have done with the Autobahn—and the road won’t need as much continuing maintenance. That means cracking and caving happens less often because the roads are designed to be more difficult for water to get down under. But build a thinner road with a less stable foundation, and you’re looking at lots of regular upkeep.
… Before a new road is built, engineers predict how much and what kind of use it’s going to get. This is fine if an area’s expected growth stays on track, but say a new suburb springs up or a massive manufacturing facility is constructed, then suddenly the stretch of road is flooded with more vehicles than it can handle. When the load increases dramatically, it increases the amount of upkeep and shortens the road’s expected life. Furthermore, where construction is involved, what is often left off of the balance sheet is how much travelers lose in gas and time. Our pocket books are essentially being hit twice.
“The challenge is that the roads are always in some sense of a reactive mode to what businesses want to do,” explains Lomax. “The transportation network is being used to help companies make more profit. That’s a difficult trend to resist.” He points to ‘just in time manufacturing,’ where each individual part is made at its own plant and then trucked to another plant for rapid assembly, as a recent example of how companies are pushing the limits of what our roads can take, which increases their profits—but at the taxpayer’s expense.
Andrew . Walsh (CC-BY)