Monday, November 10, 2008

Building public infrastructure -Roads-

With this summers rapid rise in gas prices, the federal highway trust fund should have taken a load of money--except that people drove less--and the total tax receipts fell. And with this decline, states cut back on the road building projects funded by such tax revenues.

Add to this situation a new twist, the lack of road-building material, asphalt. Refineries nationwide have installed new devices called "cokers" that can take the lowest grade (and least expensive) oil and produce highly profitable fuel, gasoline and diesel fuel. So, where once 40% of a barrel of oil would go to asphalt, now only 10% makes it to the road surface. To top that off, a petrochemical used to make the roads more durable has declined in production, thereby making it more expensive, to the point that some states are leaving it out of the construction contract. This makes the roads that do get built, less likely to last the designed time period.

So, is the bottom line that we settle for more expensive roads that don't last and drive cars that consume fuel that we can't afford? Neither of these two scenarios could be called sustainable.

What we need to do is start to plan for real mass transit, a streetcar system that runs on a renewable energy such as electricity, generated from water, wind, solar, and/or nuclear sources. Plan for a regional rail system so that no one needs to commute more than a few miles by auto (and preferably 1/2 mile by foot). Neighborhoods need to be walkable and street surfaces be of concrete or stone(I would love to streets of cobblestone here).

A real system of light rail from subdivisions to downtown, regional rail to the outlying suburbs and intercity rail to Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville, Knoxville and beyond. Walkable neighborhoods with nodes of small retail interspersed at +/- 1/2 mile intervals, filled with shops of fresh foods and services. If all this sounds like the European model, then why not, it has worked for them for much longer than our American system.

No comments: