The Politics of Roadway Rehabilitation, Maintenance, and Upgrading
I love roads, bridges, and railways... I love them so much, I went to college, got a degree in Civil Engineering, and design them for a living.
Ultimately, there is a long list of reasons why the maintenance of America's infrastructure is failing, but you can distill that long list down to
1. Funds: The money to do everything that's needed while also constructing brand new facilities which are needed simply isn't there.
2. Time: If you live in a state with a short summer construction season, you should understand the limits that places on roadway projects. The
primary driver for the time constraint is how much inconvenience the public is willing to submit themselves to. Say you have 3 primary East/West
through routes within 3 miles of each other and each is in need of work... God help the Project Manager who approves closing all three of those routes
to work on them in the same sequence of construction seasons. People aren't willing to inconvenience themselves and, honestly, businesses can and
have been put out of business due to losing a construction season's worth of revenue because the road in front of their store was shut down to a
single lane and their customers couldn't be bothered by the delays.
3. Politics: This one is HUGE. Let's say you have a 50 year old roadway that connects two communities. When that roadway was initially constructed,
it may have seen a couple thousand vehicles per day on a busy holiday weekend. Chances are those numbers have risen sharply since then, however.
That roadway that was designed as a 2 lane, level of service B facility may now be operating a LOS F and require 4 or even 6 lanes to reach an
acceptable level of service today. Once you factor in the "sensitive land" issues, the cultural site impacts, the environmental concerns, the
"environmental justice" (look it up, it doesn't mean what you think it does!) and all the horsecrap the regulators put the project through, you'll end
up having politicians who are scared to death of the project. Then, just for giggles, take a project that the politicans agree is vital and must be
built and watch the "alternative transportation" jackasses wade into the conversation... now we're looking at bus lanes, HOV lanes, light rail
provisions, ADA pedestrian facilities, bike lanes, AND multiuse separated pathways... by the time the DOT has heard all the demands, chances are
they've determined it is easier to just use the money they have to throw a chip seal on the road, sand blast and repaint the bridge girders, and walk
away from the idea of doing what is REALLY needed.
EDIT TO ADD: A small bit of engineering knowledge regarding the topic of service life. Strongly dependent on use, percentage of heavy truck traffic,
soil conditions, and weather conditions, Hot Mix Asphalt and PCC are almost always at their full service life after 20 years. (Often can be as low as
10 years). That means every 10 years or so, the top of the surface should be roughed up by a grinder and then either a chip seal, popcorn seal, or
Recycled Asphalt resurfacing should be performed and every 20 years the road should be milled down to the aggregate course, any potholes corrected to
full depth, and the entire road fully resurfaced with the structural section of asphalt or PCC. Somewhere around 25-50 years, the entire structural
section depth to the subbase should be torn up, the subbase recompacted, and the entire roadway reconstructed (also all culverts replaced, although it
is a rare culvert that will survive 50 years.) Bridges are way too diverse a topic to cover this way, as it is entirely dependent on their material
and support mechanisms. My point is there is no magic bullet. Roads aren't going to last indefinitely thanks to aggressive maintenance. Their
service lives can be extended safely for a time, but eventually it is just like giving a rust bucket a fancy paint job over the rust. It really isn't
edit on 20-5-2015 by burdman30ott6 because: (no reason given)