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Page added on April 25, 2013

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Streetfacts #3: Roads Are a Money Losing Proposition

The majority of the roads and highways built in America are simply bad investments. Continuing this pattern will only ensure that wasteful projects consume larger chunks of our federal, state, and local budgets, without addressing the real need for transportation options.

This Streetfacts chapter has a bit more math than usual, but we think we’ve made an entertaining and accessible profile of how government agencies routinely justify unnecessary road projects. The example we’ve chosen to illustrate the problem is a federally-funded “diamond-diverter” interchange in Colorado. The project as proposed may look like a pretty good deal for taxpayers at first, but after crunching the numbers, you’ll see that’s not the case at all.

Much of the inspiration for this piece comes from the outstanding work of Strong Towns, an organization that emphasizes obtaining a higher return on infrastructure investments. Strong Towns Executive Director Charles Marohn, Jr. has been getting his message out through what he calls curbside chats, and we’ll soon be debuting a Streetfilm that features his work.

8 Comments on "Streetfacts #3: Roads Are a Money Losing Proposition"

  1. rollin on Thu, 25th Apr 2013 2:22 pm 

    I agree that roads are very expensive and energy intensive, I also see the need to take a long look at how we move around in the future. Those are good ideas.

    However, even though I am for the major premise of this video, I felt it was not convincing. Needs to be done with better examples and more detail, build a stronger case.

  2. Arthur on Thu, 25th Apr 2013 2:34 pm 

    We do not need highways, what we really need are these kind of ‘roads’:

    Let the roads crumble.

  3. J-Gav on Thu, 25th Apr 2013 4:11 pm 

    I lived on a dirt road in Michigan for 4 years when I was a kid and didn’t take it as an inconvenience at all. Even pitched in with the neighbors to fill in the potholes … Then the heavy artillery was brought in, it was all asphalted, the trucks started rumbling through, the window-panes shook and half the dogs in the area got run over …

  4. DC on Thu, 25th Apr 2013 4:24 pm 

    Yes, the article premise is correct, but they really only scratch the surface of the problem. Actually we do need roads, but were long past the point of them being ‘profitable’ now. IoW, the road systems are saturated, they can no longer produce all the magical ‘growth’ they want. All they produce now, is more sprawl, more pollution and more expense. But profit? no.

    Like many other things now, road expansion is no longer profitable at the margins.

  5. rollin on Thu, 25th Apr 2013 5:52 pm 

    Apparently the road systems of the US are suffering from governmental mismanagement. It is easy to calculate the future repair needs of roads and bridge repair/replacement costs. Apparently the monies have not been collected, and are not currently adequate for the task. Mismanagement on a grand scale.

    So the US should increase all transportation fuel taxes and start attending to it’s critical repair needs. This would act as something like a carbon tax in that it would promote more efficient use and conservation of fuel. Probably 50 cents to a dollar per gallon would get the job done.

  6. BillT on Fri, 26th Apr 2013 2:14 am 

    Still worshiping at the alter of Tech Arthur? That also looks a lot like rope. Roads will endure as gravel and dirt eventually. Useful for whatever walking or horse drawn wagons we may need. The Asphalt will be the first to go. Then the concrete will gradually crumble. In 1,000 years, not much will remain of our tech world. Not even us.

  7. Arthur on Fri, 26th Apr 2013 3:13 pm 

    Not worshipping, just pragmatically concentrating on what comes next.

    You have cable in Manilla, Bill?

  8. rollin on Fri, 26th Apr 2013 4:17 pm 

    New road technologies are moving forward, a sand/bacteria mix which becomes sandstone through bacterial action is the latest. So as long as fracking doesn’t use up all the sand, we can have roads without petroleum based products.

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