I recently foolishly, VERY FOOLISHLY, decided to drive to the activist’s convention, Netroots, in Detroit. I wanted my wife and I to experience one of our favorite pathways through the beautiful Smoky Mountains with a side trip to Ohio to visit friends.
Instead of flying, I VERY FOOLISHLY drove the 1,400-mile trip, or rather, I stopped and started most of the 1,400-mile trip because the highways I encountered along the way, with few exceptions, were a dangerous and annoying embarrassment. “Road Work Ahead” is now the road traveler’s anthem. Borrowing from the title of the popular Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black,” let me tell you that orange barrels are the new black. For huge chunks of Interstate, orange and white-banded barrels were the only scenery available.
Our highways are shot and the signage proved it for the entirety of my trip. I started in South Carolina, crossed into a few miles of North Carolina, followed by Tennessee, then it was on to the length of Kentucky (where, if you’re not going 80, a local is on your bumper) into Ohio and, finally, the additional miles to Detroit, Michigan. The main highways involved were I-26, I-40 and I-75. Other than Detroit, Cincinnati was the largest city we hit, and we managed to get buried in its rush hour of a metro area of over 2 million. Had everything gone according to plan, we would have been long past Cincy, hours prior to that inevitable gridlock. As it was, unforeseen circumstances added almost four maddening hours to the trip.
During each of the roughly 12 plus hours it took to reach our original Ohio destination, there were endless warning signs posted roadside to announce the latest repair mess we were about to run into. The most prominent sign, of course, was the aforementioned “Road Work Ahead.” There were dozens of such demoralizers along the route. Then you would be graciously counted down to one lane – 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile and you were there, right after the inevitable flaming idiot, cuts in ahead of you by inches at the last second. Delays ranged from minimal to upwards of 20-30 minutes.
My wife wrote down the other road repair warnings we spotted along the way. More times than I can count, we were treated to the “right or left lane closed ahead” one or the other magically disappearing in 2 miles, 1 mile and finally the payoff, accompanied, of course, by Mr. flaming idiot. Most of the time, the reduction of lanes was due to road repairs.
“Lane Shift” was popular. That means go over there, your lane is being torn up. Some signs were guaranteed to siphon off at least a few bucks off your car’s value. How about “Bumps/Cracks?” And they weren’t kidding. My wife loved “Uneven Lanes.” That’s when one lane, usually recently paved, is anywhere up to four inches higher than it’s neighboring unpaved lane. Upppp we go! Doooown we go! That’ll shorten tire life and trailer haulers beware according to knowledgeable trailer haulers. “Grooved Pavement” is a rush. How does pavement even get “grooved?”
Many roads had featured giant concrete barriers between you and oncoming traffic. Those were especially fun on winding mountain roads. Oft-times you were a scant six inches away from scratching up your silver paint job or worse. Had a divorce attorney been riding along in the back seat, I might now be available, ladies. I was ordered in the firmest of tones not to drive in the lane next to the menacing concrete. I complied, acting like a pre-schooler in refusing to pass a right-lane 18-wheeler crawling along at 35 mph on the upgrades. As husbands always do, I soon capitulated, fearful of the remaining years of TV dinners and alienated affection. Besides, the Mrs. is a teacher and from a schoolmarm, an order is an order.
Other joys presented in the mountains were the signs of no shoulder, dip, and something you never want to see at 3,000 feet, “shoulder drop-off.” Taken literally, ‘drop-off’ is an understatement. One such sign was posted at an aptly named exit, “Stinking Creek Rd.”
Granted, six out of fifty states does not a comprehensive study make, but I’ve driven in a few other states of late and it’s the same story. Something must be done immediately. The annoyances I talked about are virtually all patchwork. Interstates are being made passable with the least possible expenditures of Highway Trust Fund dollars, the primary funding source for the nation’s highways. Even some of the recent repairs look in need of repair already. I’m not exaggerating. The Republican house recently passed a stopgap measure to take us to May of next year. This vote prevailed, in spite of the fact that the ridiculous Heritage Action arm of the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth threatened to list member’s votes on their respective scorecards. The Senate is voting on the bill soon with an amendment that may reduce the coverage time to December.
Assorted fees have been added to the legislation, to fill in the funding holes. If a senate December consideration amendment passes, then it is the hope that there will be serious action on funding for the long term. President Obama would like to see $126.5 billion added to the Highway Trust Fund according to a Politico analysis. The money would come through “tax reform.” Translation: Close loopholes for the wealthy.
It should be noted that the fed tax of 18 cents per gallon hasn’t increased in over 20 years. And, in South Carolina, there’s a war being waged against raising that state’s gasoline tax by a penny. And the state pays less than virtually any other state in the country.
A final thought. The Highway Trust Fund is all but broke. The longer this thing gets politically batted around by the anti-tax, anti-fed, hypnotized, sell-out, pro-billionaire red states, the more it’s going to cost to repair our roads and build new ones in the future. I would guess, and it’s only a guess, that in ten years, the prices of everything included in repair and new highway builds will double. Somewhere, sometime, somebody is going to have to pay the piper.
Loopholes cost America $600 billion in taxes domestically every year. Worldwide, $21 trillion is being hidden offshore. And that number comes from Forbes. In our incentives and no-tax lust to attract lousy paying jobs from anti-union, enormously greedy big name companies, we’re ruining America.
I know; I just drove across 1,400 miles of those ruins.
Raised rural & small town, then lived in N.Y., Chicago & LA. Widely traveled. Returned from world wandering to pursue media life of anchorman/reporter and major, medium and small market talk radio. Highly active in politics. Once worked as orderly & security in Mens Lock Ward for the Criminally Insane at a state institution. Much more rational population than current Teapublicans. Great concern for country run by and for the extreme wealthy. The inhumane current running through this country has no precedent in modern history.
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