The stone age

THE STONE AGE…. In 21st century America, we could be investing more in infrastructure, but that’s expensive. It’s cheaper to simply move away from paved roads.

Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.

In Michigan, at least 38 of the 83 counties have converted some asphalt roads to gravel in recent years. Last year, South Dakota turned at least 100 miles of asphalt road surfaces to gravel. Counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania have begun downgrading asphalt roads to cheaper chip-and-seal road, also known as “poor man’s pavement.” Some counties in Ohio are simply letting roads erode to gravel.

The moves have angered some residents because of the choking dust and windshield-cracking stones that gravel roads can kick up, not to mention the jarring “washboard” effect of driving on rutted gravel.

But higher taxes for road maintenance are equally unpopular.

Of course they are. The WSJ noted one North Dakota resident who voted against a ballot measure to raise taxes to pay for paved roads, right around the time she wrote to the governor, urging him not to allow a major road in her area to be converted into gravel.

Folks want more public services while opposing efforts to pay for them. Imagine that.

As for the bigger picture, public officials looking for stimulative investments in infrastructure don’t have to look too hard. I’d personally like see far more spending on rail, but helping communities have paved streets not only seems reasonable, it would also create some jobs and improve local commerce.

If there were 60 votes in the Senate for infrastructure, this might even happen.