The Nation’s Highways Are Shot

highway construction


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.

35 Replies to “The Nation’s Highways Are Shot”

  1. You have experienced one aspect of the deterioration of America’s infrastructure: the vast network of interstate highways, like all other highways, is disintegrating after half a century (or more) of use. Tens of thousands of Americas’s bridges are structurally deficient. Our antiquated railroad network is experiencing the same deterioration of its rails and railroad beds, resulting in derailments, often with spills of cargo and toxic fluids. Our nation’s schools and hospitals are decaying and need modernization and improvement. Our water pipes are old and need replacement. The electric transmission lines, gas pipelines, oil pipelines are similarly falling into deteriorating conditions. The huge dams, built over decades, are now approaching their life expectancies. A nation that does not invest in its own maintenance is doomed to learn the hard way. Replacement is always more costly than good maintenance. Yet one of our two major political parties refuses to invest in the…..

  2. Welcome to driving in America in summer – sorry pal but its been that way since the Reagan era. In many areas of the country there are two seasons – winter and construction. Rule of thumb for long distance summer drives is 1) don’t be in a hurry. 2) expect to add 4-6 hrs for every 1000 miles of travel. I am not saying our roads are not in poor condition but only 4 hrs behind on your trip ain’t shit. Also if there ever is another shot of federal cash for infrastructure upgrades you can expect more “orange barrels” so my question to you is what do you want ?? No delays ?? Or roads being repaired and made safe ?? You can’t have both.

  3. As a truck driver for 37yrs I can see and feel the bad road conditions. My biggest fear is that a bridge is gonna give way while I’m on it. Maybe if a bridge fall down with republicans on it and die maybe they’ll think about the country instead of their masters.

  4. the roads in New Jersey are beautiful. Possibly because the mafia owns the construction business and wants to keep their friends working, but I never complain. I haven’t seen on orange cone in years, unless they are totally redoing a road. If you have a desire to drive on smooth, efficient highways come, but do not move here, we don’t want you.

  5. I’ve been in Charlotte for nearly 3 years now. They’re NEVER going to finish the 485 circle, and there has been paving equipment sitting idle on 77 since before we moved here. It’s a parking lot where people move forward by taking turns parallel parking in each others’ lanes in front of each other.

    Why in the world do they make their highways go in circles? There is not a single direct line between Point A and Point B on the East Coast!

  6. I’ve driven between Illinois and Colorado for 35 years. It’s been a lot of patches, not repairs. Yes the cones will be there for serious repairs to. But funding will mean the are real repairs.

  7. Many of the roads in NJ are a mine-field of deep dangerous potholes. A month ago a woman was killed on rt. 287 when she hit a pot-hole on her Harley. She wasn’t speeding. The pothole was a crater at least 8 inches deep. (Google it) Hitting some of the potholes I’ve seen on major highways would destroy the front end of an SUV. God help anyone on a motorcycle.

    The theft and redistribution of wealth to the top, aka, trickle down economics, has now reduced this once great country into a third world ghetto. And yet, Republicans are dead set on embracing and continuing this thoroughly failed Reaganomics policy. It’s impossible for them to admit they were wrong. It’s impossible for them to change.

    The only hope for America is electing a vast majority of Democrats. Otherwise, we are doomed.

  8. Just got off a 500+ mile jaunt across I-80 (Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska) the “Dwight Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.” It occurred to me this interstate system is one of the crowning achievements of the 20th Century, of the “Greatest Generation” of my Father and his Father. So what about our “contribution” to the transportation infrastructure? Idealists, greens, hippies and new-agers where is our contribution three quarters of a century later? Speedy bullet trains, self operating taxi services door to door automated passenger and freight services? WTF are we leaving, a shitbox full of holes and smoking relics leftover from the oil age? Sad shit man, sad shit.

  9. I disagree the roads are the best we ever had. Roads that are shot is what we had in the 70s. roads with so many potholes you had to drive looking down to look for potholes. It was hard to drive a night because you couldn’t see the potholes. roads that were so shot you couldn’t drive 60 MPH. Concrete barricades in construction zones is a safety feature that did not exist in the 70s. overhead lighted signs with yellow banners LANE ENDS also did not exist in the 70s when the government wouldn’t spend money on roads.

  10. This is because the republicans won’t be satisfied until our nation is a third world failed state, aka the libertarian’s paradise. I live in Southern California. I-10 between L.A. and Palm Springs is pothole after suspension breaking pothole. The State highways are actually in good shape though.

  11. One of our greatest infrasructure avchievements so far is to refuse to repair the Eisenhower-era crumbling and swaying concrete of our bridges. If you live in Texas and use an interstate overpass, lift your feet and yell Allilgator. It may be your last word on earth, so it might as well be dramatic.

  12. Well, we need to ask ourselves what it is we want: more war or better American infrastructure and then vote our answer.

  13. This reminds me of something I read, it is labeled Greek Proverb:

    “A society grows great when old men plant trees in which shade they know they will never sit”.

    For Republicans there is no future, they only care how much money they can make today, damn the future generations.

  14. The headline reads, “The Nation’s Highways Are Shot”, and then the article goes on to complain endlessly about road construction.

    Well, how the fuck do you suppose the roads are going to get fixed except by road construction?

  15. Just on last leg of trip from Wisconsin to Pacific coast. Quite a few repairs, but then this is freeze/thaw country and until scientists come up with material that sheds water and/or wont let water freeze, potholes are going to be a fact of life every spring.

  16. In Indiana the Orange Barrel phenomenon is so bad a song by that name was made and played on the airwaves for years in the 1990s.

    I always thought that Indiana always served as a harbinger as things to come. It was one of the first states to embrace “Right to work” also a state that is worse than Texas in environmental laxness. My asthma was never as bad as it was in Indiana. Indianapolis has a yellow haze that blankets the city that you can see in the air. The city is basin shaped, so the pollution has nowhere to go unless a cleansing tornado blows through it.

    And the roads are HIDEOUS. Once you get outside of Indianapolis, there are Chuck holes the size of Smart Cars.

    It’s a constant game of the “single lane squeeze”

  17. And some of the WORST drivers imaginable! Turn signal? What’s that?
    Slower traffic keep right? Challenge Accepted! I’ll stay over here even if an ambulance gets behind me!
    What is it with Texans? They drive like they are the only one on the road?
    Wish NASCAR moves were legal!

  18. What he is saying is that instead of being redone, and fixed, there are endless areas where patchwork is being done to just keep things going. We need new roads and bridges, not endless stretches of patchwork.

  19. “Move to Texas. Best roads in the country.”

    But the crappiest highways. We already know the state is switching to gravel on many highways, because they can’t afford the upkeep, with no state income taxes to pay for repair.

  20. Many of the roads you were on were marked left lane for trucks. Those lanes are far better than the right lanes, which are actually the berms, which are quite uneven and could cause trailer loads to shift and make the rig sway and tip. Now, wouldn’t that be interesting?
    I hope you had an EZ-Pass, which would save you money and is safer because you don’t have to fish for change while driving 75-80 with everybody else.
    Best source is the Mass Pike website. MA is the only state that doesn’t charge for the transponder(s) nor has a monthly charge whether used or not. Email statements also no charge.
    Hope this helps. BTW, I’ve driven I-90 in PA for years, and can remember only one summer with no barrels.

  21. To bad when you were in Detroit you didn’t take advantage of the wonder that is Windsor. After the bowling ball-sized cobblestones that is downtown Detroit, going thru the tunnel & coming out in Canada is like visiting Oz. The sky is bluer, the grass is greener. What a world! What a world!

  22. Oh my gosh, this is something that has been bugging me for Years! I too grew up in that red haven, Indiana and thankfully left 39 years ago for Washington state. (Fortunately grew up in Lake County, the only blue county in the state, or as we like to call it, Chicagoland.) Infrastructure repair/replacement was one of the main reasons I voted for Obama. No one had even talked about it for years before he added it to his platform. Due to our ineffectual do-nothing Congress, nothing has been done. (Does that mean they can call themselves successful?) I agree, only a bridge collapsing with Boehner driving over it might get some attention. But of course, then that would all be Obama’s fault. We need a blue tidal wave in the upcoming elections. Let’s get back to the business of taking care of our country and forget about trying to spread “democracy” throughout the world to those who don’t want/need it via unnecessary wars that are really designed to grab oil.

  23. The worst stretch of Interstate on the continent is I-20 through Jackson, MS. Not really any potholes, but the road surface is so bumpy and uneven it is guaranteed to shake loose every component of the suspension on your vehicle. My entire body was still vibrating when we got to Shreveport.

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