By K.C. Green, P.E., NMA North Carolina Member
Been stuck in traffic lately? Well join the club. What could be more frustrating than piddling along at 5 mph when the speed limit’s 70? It’s about the same time you say to yourself (or fellow passenger), “Why don’t they widen this (fill in the blank) road?” It’s a powerless feeling, and you‘d like to do something about it. Well… on Nov 8th you can!
Every two years, as the general election approaches, I hear the same message: “Get out and vote.” Well, voting is one thing, and being an informed voter is another. What good is it to vote if you don’t know if the candidate will be making decisions that you believe in?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably an NMA member. Perhaps you joined because driving is too much of a hassle and you’d like to see changes. Driving should be a routine part of our lives like brushing our teeth, but it’s not even close. You would never discuss brushing your teeth with anyone (except your dentist), but driving is always a timely topic, and usually when you’re not happy about something.
If you could vote for someone who is truly interested in making your drive as easy as possible would you vote for him/her regardless of his/her stance on other issues? How important does driving mobility factor into your quality of life?
We face various challenges on the road, and the NMA does a pretty good job at addressing them, but which one affects you the most? How about the actual roads you drive on? Are they adequate enough to take you from Point A to B in a seamless manner, or are you frequently facing traffic congestion?
Traffic congestion and unsafe roads are eating us alive. Thousands of unfunded road improvement and maintenance projects across the nation sit on the shelf while we sit in our cars, staring at the bumper in front of us. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 Highway Report Card (a quadrennial report), deficient roads cost each American driver $324 per year in extra repairs and operating costs. And that cost doesn’t include air pollution and the loss of productivity, leisure time, sleep time or the toll on your health (actually SITTING in your car is bad for your health). We all want better roads, but how do we get them?
As a civil engineer, I can design wonderful roads, but taking it from design to construction is a whole other story…usually a political story.
There are four political barriers that delay, water down or cancel new roads and road improvement projects:
- Neighborhood opposition (aka NIMBY effect)
- “Old school” mentality
- The involvement of multiple jurisdictions
That’s it. (Environmental issues are not political, but can become so.) Funding can come from local, state and federal coffers, but all the other barriers are pretty much local concerns.
By far, the biggest political barrier is funding, and the most efficient way to bolster funding is with a fuel tax increase. (Some local entities have increased the sales tax, which is another efficient method.) What is NOT efficient is so-called alternative financing.
In general, alternative financing means TOLLING… and tolling has very high administrative costs (some of the toll you pay goes toward non-highway operational and construction costs).In addition, tolling can only be assigned to limited-access highways (freeways, expressway, turnpikes, etc.). You can’t toll a surface street. Except for large bridges and tunnels, tolling is a poor option.
We really need to increase the fuel tax – significantly increase it – no matter the price of gas or diesel. (The federal fuel tax has not been raised since 1993 and currently stands at 18.4 cents per gallon.) It’s the best bang for our buck.
Transportation is a tool we use to sustain our lifestyles, and by far, the most common mode is driving. So, it’s encouraging that both major-party presidential candidates have mentioned often that “rebuilding our nation’s roads and bridges” is one of the many things they want to accomplish if they are elected. But how they plan to fund this ambitious goal is another story, and it’s not clear how they’re going to do it. I have noticed that neither Clinton’s nor Trump’s official website mentions a fuel tax increase. That’s disappointing, but even if they did, it takes support from Congress to make it happen.
I can’t research the road-financing platforms of the thousands of federal, state and local candidates that seek to represent NMA members, but you can research YOUR OWN candidates. I encourage you to go to their websites to see how they plan to address road and bridge funding. If they mention “alternative financing,” some other convoluted approach, or nothing at all, perhaps you should rethink your support.