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Pothole Nation: What is America’s grade on infrastructure?

Report Card on America's Infrastructure

Click on this logo to read the Report Card.

America has a Report Card on its infrastructure, given by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE). What grade does the country get?

Hint: It’s not even a “Gentleman’s C.”

In fact, if a schoolchild came home with America’s infrastructure grade, the kid would be grounded for a year.

The ASCE assigns grades from A to F on the basis of “physical condition and needed fiscal investments for improvement,” according to the ASCE web site. An overall GPA is given to the nation as a whole, and to each state. Grades are also broken down by infrastructure type, such as water and environment, transportation (bridges, roads, ports, transit, etc.), public facilities, and energy.

The nation’s overall grade is a D+. The nation has been getting poor grades for many years. “Since 1998,” says the ASCE, “the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories.”

Of the 16 specific categories, 12 get grades in the D- to D+ range. The four highest grades are bridges (C+), ports (C), rail (C+), and solid waste (B-).

The estimated investment needed by 2020 to fix all this is a whopping $3.6 trillion.

Are you surprised by our near-failing grades?

If you were in charge, what would you do?

What would you fix first? Where would you start?

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Pothole Nation: Is marijuana the answer?

Colbert covers the pot for potholes proposalShould vice serve virtue?

That’s the premise behind one idea for fixing potholes and maintaining good roads. It’s called “pot for potholes.” The idea is to legalize and tax marijuana, using the revenue for roads, highways, and bridges.

What do you think of “pot for potholes”?

A “pot for potholes” proposal was raised in Michigan last year, but it didn’t get very far—though Stephen Colbert had a heyday mocking it. Now, the idea has been raised in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

In some ways, legalizing and taxing marijuana to pay for roads is similar to legalizing gambling to pay for education. Proponents of legalized gambling said it would rescue public education. But it didn’t. The Michigan Lottery, for example, covers only 6.6% of the state’s education budget, as we’ve discussed on OurValues.org before. The real problem comes in when state legislators don’t add the new revenues to the education budget. The California State Lottery ran into this problem. California state legislators cut the state’s education budget and counted on the lottery to make up the cuts.

“Pot for potholes” could end up the same way. Instead of a supplement to state budgets for infrastructure repair and maintenance, the added revenue could be diverted to other uses or used as a replacement for cuts to state infrastructure budgets.

Oh, yes—and there is the morality issue of legalizing marijuana and asking vice to serve virtue.

What do you think of “pot for potholes”?

Do you think this proposal has merit?

Can it really help our pothole nation?

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Pothole Nation: Your cost? You’ll pay $377

TRIP national transportation research group

CLICK on this image form the TRIP website to read the group’s pothole report.

Today is Tax Day! The IRS tax filing deadline is a perfect time to talk about potholes, use taxes, and cost shifting. Politicians are afraid to raise taxes to maintain good roads, but are you getting taxed anyway?

This winter has been one of the harshest ever, taking a toll on the nation’s roads, highways, and bridges. American drivers are paying for it in frazzled nerves, aggravation, and money. Taxes may not go up, but you pay anyway.

Driving on pothole-riddled roads in urban areas costs the average driver about $377 per year in car repair, maintenance, additional fuel consumption, and worn tires, according to TRIP, a national transportation research group in Washington, D.C. That amounts to $80 billion nationwide. In the worst places, the cost is $800 per year.

In effect, these added costs are a form of use or excise tax. The more you drive, the higher your anticipated costs due to bad roads. It’s a form of cost shifting. You don’t pay actual taxes to a government, but you pay anyway for maintenance and repair. The only way to avoid this secret tax is to not drive.

But, all is not tax on Tax Day. Several stores and retailers offer freebies to offset the pain of Tax Day, according to an article in the Huffington Post. For example, Arby’s offers free fries (with a coupon), Boston Market offers discounts, McDonald’s offers a free small coffee in the morning hours, and Office Depot will shred five pounds of paper for free.

Have you experienced car damage or excessive wear because of potholes?

How do you feel about this secret potholes tax?

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Pothole Nation: Who’s to blame?

New Orleans Brightmoor pothole

POTHOLES ARE EVERYWHERE! Think it’s a “Northern problem”? This monster is on a side street in New Orleans. Photo by Bart Everson, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Do you have a pothole you love to hate?

Spring is finally here, giving us mild weather in which to enjoy the aftermath of the polar vortex: potholes. Tire-popping, frame-rattling, axle-snapping, backbone-jarring potholes. What’s the state of roads where you live? Who’s to blame for all the potholes?

The issue of potholes is a great values question because it involves so many principles and priorities. We loathe taxes but we want government services like durable roads. We can blame the potholes on local and state politicians, or the trucking industry, or poor urban planning, or global warming, or more. Maybe we just drive too much.

Michigan, my home state, spends less money per capita than any state in the union on roads and bridges, according to U.S. Census data. Neighboring states in the Midwest spend much more. But this hasn’t stopped the pothole problem in the region. Chicago has so many big potholes that a spoof appeared claiming that “missing plane found in Chicago pothole.” This was poor taste but it made a point.

A new poll of Michiganders reports that 28% blame the state legislature. Almost the same percentage (24%) blames Governor Snyder. Republicans are more likely to the blame the legislature, the poll finds, while Democrats are more likely to blame the governor—though they placed plenty of blame on the Republican-controlled legislature as well.

Fingers were also pointed at county government (9%), local government (7%), and special interest groups (8%). Only 5% laid blame on the voters. Twenty percent didn’t have an answer or were undecided.

What’s the state of roads where you live?

Where’s the pothole you love to hate?

Who’s to blame for all the potholes?

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False Truths: ‘When all you have is a hammer …’

Landscape

Sometimes a hammer is the right tool … maybe. These two Civilian Conservation Corps “boys” in the 1930s were charged with breaking big rocks into gravel.

You can complete the sentence, don’t you?

“When all you have is a hammer—everything looks like a nail.” That’s one of those axioms you hear pretty regularly. Most often it’s used to describe a person or process lacking refinement or subtlety.

This week, we’re looking at false truths, phrases often repeated as if they are true, but might actually not be.

While the expression certainly has its roots in folk wisdom, it became one of the touchstones of psychological literature when it was cited in Abraham Maslow’s The Psychology of Science, published in 1966.

According to the Wikipedia entry: “The concept known as the law of the instrument, Maslow’s hammer, gavel or a golden hammer is an over-reliance on a familiar tool.”

It’s a form of confirmation bias, and the narrow-minded approach it represents is generally a curse to problem solving.

But wait a second. Hammers can be pretty darned useful, and not just for driving nails. And they might in fact be the perfect tool for the task at hand.

In the real world, there are lots of different hammers, of course, for everything from driving in upholstery tacks to breaking big stones into little ones. I keep a rubber mallet in the kitchen to help drive a cleaver through acorn squash.

A recent blog on Forbes cited a few more non-practical uses of hammers, like making noise and breaking things.

So if everything looks like a nail to you? Maybe it’s not your hammer.

What other False Truths should we have listed this week?

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False Truths: ‘I had rather be right than be president’

Henry Clay photo“I had rather be right than be president,” Henry Clay declared in 1839. Clay played an enormous role in American political life in the first half of the 19th century, representing Kentucky for decades in both houses of Congress; he served three different terms as speaker of the House of Representatives and one term as Secretary of State. And, famously, lost three bids for the White House.

The context of Clay’s statement has become obscured over the years, but it has come to mean that personal principles are more important than ambitions, that we should adhere to our moral values no matter the cost.

But this week, we’re talking about false truths, or axioms that are repeated often as facts of life, whether they’re true of not.

Might this be one of them? Consider: What’s “right” in a democracy? Is it our individual moral principles? Or, might we all be better off if our elected officials paid more attention to how government policies can help or hurt individuals?

That was always the focus for Al Smith, another major figure in American political life, who lost a bid for the presidency 1928. Smith was always a pragmatist, known for mastering the minutiae of how legislation would affect real people. He had no patience for politicians who refused to do their homework and, instead, tried to solve everything by the application of some moral law.

What do you think?

Should our leaders be elected to stick to their own guns at all cost?

Or is there a flaw in Henry Clay’s famous line?

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False Truths: “They grow up so fast.”

family snapshotsOn Facebook the other day, a friend posted some photos of his son in his prom tuxedo, very handsome in a red bow tie and cummerbund, with the proud mother fussing over him. That prom photo is one of the required rites of spring, it seems, and we’ll see lots of similar poses from friends with children that age over the next few weeks.

And in another of the required rites, one of the top comments will be something along the lines of “They grow up so fast!”

But do they really? This week, we’re talking about some false truths, axioms that sometimes aren’t as true as they seem.

And “they grow up so fast” is one of them.

One reason we shoot those pictures of our children in their tuxes and formal gowns is because those days are so memorable, like the first day of school and other milestones.

And even for the most devoted uncles and aunts and friends of the family, the gaps between those photos can be pretty large, giving the impression that these kids were riding trikes yesterday and are driving away tonight.

But there are thousands of days and nights between those photos, thousands of diapers, permission slips, piano lessons, dental bills and dirty dishes.

In a completely different context, Abraham Lincoln said “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

That might be the best thing about parenting, too, that children don’t grow up very fast, but one day at a time.

What “False Truths” do you wish we re-thought?

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