Tag Archives: roads

The Roads Not Taken

The other day, my husband shared a great cartoon with me: a lecturer was standing by a whiteboard containing a list of actions to combat climate change, most of which would also result in cleaner air and water. A man at the back of the lecture hall is asking “But what if we make the world better and it turns out the scientists were wrong?”

It is difficult to understand opposition to efforts to ameliorate climate change, since most of the measures being proposed are things we ought to be doing anyway. (I do understand why people who make their living from fossil fuels pooh-pooh climate change, and “explain away” the unusual number of unusually destructive hurricanes, not to mention the droughts,  the fact that it’s the end of October and in Indiana the trees have barely begun to change color…)

The problem with taking a head in the sand approach–or just making outright war on all environmental protection measures, a la Scott Pruitt–is that it is getting costly. Ignore, if you will, predictions of future crop failures and massive numbers of refugees from no-longer-habitable regions. Let’s just look at current costs and those we can predict with confidence.

Thanks to the unprecedented number and severity of hurricanes, FEMA has already had to ask Congress for billions of extra dollars. To the extent the fires in California were connected to that state’s long drought, we can add the costs of that disaster. Those disasters, however, are small potatoes next to the extra costs incurred on otherwise run-of-the-mill projects as a result of climate change.

Take road construction.

When engineers build roads, they use weather models to decide what kind of pavement can withstand the local climate. Currently, many American engineers use temperature data from 1964 to 1995 to select materials. But the climate is changing.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change asserts that newer temperature figures are needed to save billions of dollars in unnecessary repairs. Using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Shane Underwood of Arizona State University and his colleagues show that road engineers have selected materials inappropriate for current temperatures 35 percent of the time over the past two decades.

The researchers concluded that a failure to adapt the engineering to warmer temperatures is adding 3 to 9 percent to the cost of building and maintaining a road over 30 years. Those are tax dollars being wasted at a time American infrastructure is desperately in need of repair and rebuilding.

The research analyzed two potential scenarios, one in which global temperatures rose less than current estimates, and one that reflected current predictions. Their results suggest that somewhere between $13.6 and $35.8 billion in extra or earlier-than-normal repairs will be required for roads now being built if the current predictions are accurate. In the lower-temperature warming model, they calculate annual extra costs of between $0.8 billion and $1.3 billion; in the higher-temperature warming model, they predict annual extra costs between $0.8 billion and $2.1 billion.

Other findings included:

  • A road built to last 20 years will require repairs after 14 to 17 years under these models.
  • In some cases, government transportation agencies are paying too much for materials to withstand cold temperatures that do not currently (and perhaps no longer) exist.
  • Because municipal governments in the United States work on tighter road-maintenance budgets than state and federal transportation departments, the extra financial strain will largely impact cities and towns.

There are undoubtedly other expenses that will be generated by our changing climate–some that we can anticipate, and others that will come as unwelcome surprises. Scientists in a number of fields are investigating likely consequences–everything from the loss of hundreds of insect and animal species to the negative effect on coffee beans.

There will be significant and unpleasant costs to taking the road marked “Science Denial.” Unfortunately, these days–at least, in the United States– that road isn’t the “one less traveled.”

 

Bosma: The Grownup in the Room

Well, the usual suspects are all ganging up on Brian Bosma, the Speaker of the Indiana House, who has had the temerity to suggest that, if we want roads we can drive on, we probably need to pay for them.

As the Indianapolis Star reported

Hoosiers could pay more for gas and cigarettes under a road funding proposal being crafted by Indiana House Republican leaders.

The proposal also would provide for a study about turning I-65 and I-70 into toll roads.

House Speaker Brian Bosma provided some details about the proposal during a legislative conference Downtown on Wednesday. The funding plan would index the state’s fuel tax to inflation and gradually shift all of the 7 percent sales tax on gasoline to the motor vehicle highway fund, which is used for state and local road projects.

Bosma said the plan would create a sustainable, long-term solution for maintaining Indiana’s roads and bridges, but he acknowledged that some would consider it a tax increase.

Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue for alternative ways to raise the necessary revenues, or to ask for assurances that funds raised will be prudently spent– but those aren’t the arguments being mounted by Bosma’s opponents. They are opposed to anything that looks remotely like a tax. No matter what.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the proposed tax adjustments would be a tough sell in the legislature, where many Republicans have pledged never to increase taxes.

This impasse is a stark reminder that there are two kinds of Republican in Indiana (as elsewhere): those interested in actually governing, and those (like our embarrassing Governor) interested only in pulling down a public paycheck for posturing and pontificating. And there are more of the latter than the former.

News flash, ideologues: there is no free lunch. There is no way to provide necessary public services, no way to maintain critical public infrastructure, without adequate funds. Taxes are “user fees”–they are the price we pay for civilization, our social “membership dues.”

Grownups understand that.