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Get riled up over roadways [Commentary]

Roadways today are in the worst condition they have been since the 1940s. In our world of advanced technology how could this have happened?

We know that more people are driving every day. Younger Americans frequently have their own car or access to a family vehicle, and older Americans are living longer and driving more in their later years. Goods moved by truck also far exceed those moved by rail, by boat, by barge or by air because of the flexibility trucks have to deliver to your home or neighborhood.

And we simply love our cars. They're bring us closer together as we have adopted the suburban and rural lifestyles.

Meanwhile, we are concerned about the environment. We want cleaner air and cleaner water while enjoying our current level of mobility. Transit may get us close to our destination, but with little control of the schedule. We expect the convenience of choosing our exact destination and our exact schedule; this includes both arrival and departure.

We are remiss for not communicating these desires to our elected representatives. Roadways in Baltimore, Washington, Maryland and America are falling apart at an alarming rate. We have the responsibility of voicing our opinion to every level of government.

We also must understand that the roadways have not been properly maintained in the past and that there will be significant costs to restore their condition. These repairs could be paid for incrementally with a small increase in fuel taxes annually. County and city officials have sat idly by as state politicians have usurped the "highway user revenues" and diverted them elsewhere. A disproportionately large amount of the Maryland Department of Transportation revenues are devoted to fixed rail mass transit systems. Enhancements also absorb too much highway funding; do we really need faux stone retaining walls, manicured flower beds, or brick sidewalks if we can't afford to fix pot holes or repave our roadways?

Another severe problem with our system was the choice to use concrete for roadways during the 1930s, 1940s and during the birth of the Interstate highway system in the 1950s. These rigid pavements have proven to be rough, noisy and difficult or impossible to maintain and repair in a timely fashion. Use of rigid concrete pavements in America has severely increased the costs to taxpayers for the maintenance of these substandard facilities.

The Federal Highway Trust fund is once again broke and nearing another reauthorization deadline. I have not heard a single politician including our president, any senator, any United States congressman, the Secretary of Transportation or the Federal Highway Administrator advise our citizens of the real needs or its real cost. The Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accounting Office, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and The Road Information Program have all outlined needs of more than $100 billion annually. I suspect this number is underestimated since local neighborhood streets, mega superhighways such as I-95 and intermediate level roadways are in terrible condition, destroying tires and suspension components on a regular basis.

Our neighborhood, county, state and federally maintained roads will only be fixed if we complain daily to our mayors, departments of public works directors, county councils, state elected officials, congressmen, senators and our president. They all need to receive a daily barrage of complaints from us. We must demand a return to a core highway program without enhancements, the elimination of fixed rail transit systems we cannot afford, and we must express our willingness to pay for better roads. A viable solution might be a nickel per year federal gasoline tax until we restore safety and efficiency to our highway system.

More core road work, less transit, better pavement type selection, and increased gasoline taxes are the future for American mobility. Devolution is not the answer; neither is transit. We all deserve local highways and roadways which are at least as good as those we grew up using.

Brian Dolan is president of the Maryland Asphalt Association. His email is bdolan@mdasphalt.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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