I first noticed the terrible state of this road in 2009 when I began regularly using a 2.5-mile stretch of it as part of my commute to my "new" job. I have no idea how long the road had been declining before that point, but it had to take at least a couple years of neglect to reach its sorry state.
Perspective for the out-of-towners: This four-lane commercial artery is one of the biggest, busiest, most important "surface roads" (as opposed to interstate highways) in Cincinnati. Yet from the day I started, my car was beaten and abused by encountering hundreds of potholes, cracks and pavement buckles plus dozens of sunken manhole covers. The curb lanes of this four-lane road had been rendered nearly impassable.
After a while, I started avoiding Reading Road if at all possible by driving an extra couple of miles out of my way to use a different road -- Victory Parkway -- that was in far better shape. No big deal right?
Well, Reading Road is the name for the Cincinnati part of State Route 42, which runs all the way to Columbus. Before the interstate highways, this WAS the highway. The state and a variety of local governments share responsibility for maintaining the road. Yes, responsibility. That's an important word.
The city of Cincinnati thinks it can afford millions on debt service and operations costs for a new streetcar, but takes well over four years to fix one of its biggest roads. The State of Ohio thinks it has extra money to give back to taxpayers in the form of tax breaks (mostly to the rich), yet it also takes well over four years to get around to funding its share of obviously needed, way overdue repairs.
To me, that's a big failure of responsibility. But certainly no surprise.
The trend of politicians flocking to shiny new things like streetcars while underfunding repair and upkeep is nothing new. Reading Road is only one of many roads in Cincinnati that have fallen into disrepair. And Cincinnati is only one of many cities doing a crappy job of maintaining its infrastructure.
But just because the problem is commonplace doesn't make the problem acceptable. The ongoing failure of our political leaders to take care of the basics is a big part of why so many people distrust government. It's why expectations are so low. It's why so many people don't bother to vote, or even learn the names of their local and state politicians.
People drive on roads every day. They see obvious problems that don't get fixed for years. They conclude that their government is unreliable. Fixing roads is the sort of thing that people of all political stripes take for granted. This isn't something we should be thinking much about. It should just get done. But it doesn't just get done, does it?
So I'm pleased that Reading Road will finally have fresh pavement. Some people finally did their jobs and my personal, daily life will be improved as a result. So maybe I should send a thank you note? Maybe I'll get around to that sometime in the next four years.