I will not support any politician -- Democrat or Republican -- who fails to make the proper upkeep of this nation's roadways a much higher priority than it is today.
Yes, roads matter
Part of my immediate frustration stems from hugely misguided budget cutting such as the one described in this recent Cincinnati Enquirer article. Local Highway Projects Face Delays. But this is hardly a new issue.
It continually amazes me that the driving public -- which comprises the vast, vast, vast majority of registered voters in our state -- are willing to put up with the amazingly bad service we get from our governments to address the fundamental, basic, obvious chore of maintaining our public roads. It further amazes me that rail-transit fans actually say gleeful things about poor road repair being some sort of indication of the death of the car culture in America.
(Don't believe me? Check out the crazy comments attached to the Enquirer article noted above. It further amazes me that such voices have any credence -- but they do. Car-haters dominate the latest thinking in urban "planning." Very much a tail-wags-the-dog situation. Yet taken seriously. Why?)
So here's a memo to Rep. John Boehner, Gov. John Kasich, Mayor Mark Mallory, and all other politicians with jursidiction in the Greater Cincinnati region: Get the work done.
The federal interstate highway system is a NATIONAL asset. So major interstate highway repairs are a FEDERAL responsibility. That means if the I-75 bridge needs to be replaced -- or if other overcrowded and crumbling parts of I-75 need widening and repair -- Congress needs to come up with the cash. Fixing our vital corridors of commerce and transportation is not "pork." Nor are they "big government" excesses. Nor are they "bad for the environment." (As if there's a serious alternative.)
Instead, highway repairs should be simple, straight-up appropriation bills that can and should stand on their own. Want to weigh the I-75 bridge against other highway needs? OK. Fine. Establish a repair priority list and get on with it. Highway jobs should NOT depend in any way upon local tolls or other related concepts. This is not a federal-state-local "partnership." It's a federal responsibility. We ALL must own up to it.
Meanwhile, the road work at the state, county and city levels in Ohio needs to be stepped up too -- by a lot.
No more excuses
Somehow, the overlapping jurisdictions and general lack of leadership on road issues has allowed decades of underfunded repair budgets. And we-the-people have put up with it.
Lately, our non-leaders managed to allow the local utility company to launch a very large underground gas line repair project to rip up large chunks of Cincinnati. At least on the East Side, virtually all major commercial-scale streets -- and many, many smaller residential streets -- have been damaged by this work.
Yet when the crews get around to lifting the steel plates, roads have been merely patched, not repaved. And lots of the patch jobs are terrible.
Is there a plan in the works to actually repave these streets? If there is a plan, why isn't the public hearing about it? Why aren't there some signs saying repairs are coming, that things will be fixed by such-and-such date? Or a sign saying, go to this website for details?
The lack of information could be a failure to communicate with the public by various governmental bodies. Or it could be media incompetence. Or both. Regardless, can somebody please start getting the word out about when we can expect repairs?
I actually suspect there is no intent to conduct any widescale re-paving. And I want to know ... how could that be allowed to happen? Who failed to make sure the roads get repaved once the utility crews pull out? What will it take to get the ball rolling to speed up the fix?
Yes, drivers vote
Even beyond these current road hassles, I want to see our media paying more attention to a true everyday issue that affects virtually everybody.
How many stories have been produced regarding the tiny little Cincinnati streetcar that at best only a sliver of our population will use? Meanwhile, how much information is coming out about the utterly disgusting state of highways and streets throughout Greater Cincinnati? Which issue affects more people?
While I certainly do "blame" local media (including the few infrastructure bloggers out there) for failing to connect with the wider public, my true concern is aimed at our political leadership.
Elected officials...THIS is your JOB. There are no Republican potholes or Democratic traffic jams. Deteriorating bridges do not care who's in office when they finally collapse. This is the boring "infrastructure" stuff that you were elected to handle. We put you into office to keep an eye on the road departments -- federal, state and local -- and make sure this basic work gets done.
If there really is a lack of money (which I sincerely doubt), then let's discuss funding priorities. Let's discuss whether we should be building "new" roads when we fail to fix the ones we have. Let's discuss siphoning off road repair money for rail projects and other non-road projects. Let's also discuss how to cut the red tape of road planning, how to support improved efficiency, and how to encourage better repair technology.
And yes -- if necessary -- let's discuss whether we need higher taxes to pay the bill. We might. And that's something we should be able to vote for -- or against (if bizarrely you hate smooth roads).
If you politicians need a positive spin on this topic, then declare stepped-up road repair to be a jobs creation package. Whether your road program depends on union contractors, non-union contractors, immigrant labor or prison labor, it still creates jobs. Go ahead and name the road project after yourself if you need a legacy. Whatever. Just get it done.
And know this, come election time, I will be asking road-related questions to all candidates who seek MY vote. And I will expect serious answers. If I can't trust you to get the potholes repaired, then I certainly can't trust you on national defense, economic policy or social/moral/lifestyle debates.