Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tolls, Infrastructure, Resurfacing

I would have posted this an hour ago but couldn’t come up with a catchy title.  Strangely I’ve found that the title may be the hardest thing to write.  My last post the title was of course a lyric from “Those were the days” most well known as the theme song to All in the Family (See what I did there).  However, inadvertently or maybe subconsciously, it was also perfectly fitting to have a Herbert Hoover reference come before a discussion on infrastructure investment.[1] 

According to this article, the Hogan Administration is defending the recent decision to make modest decreases in bridge and road tolls and the resulting $336 million in lost revenue.  My first reaction was to rail against this as a cheap pandering move but that’s kind of a trite reaction.  While it is a pandering move (EVERYBODY grumbles when they pull up to a toll booth), I actually think the best politicians learn to put forth a bingpot[2] of easy slam dunk initiatives to buffer bold policy moves or politically “risky” projects. 

Also I should say that I have very mixed feelings about tolls.  On the one hand, with programs like education, libraries, and parks, I am a strong advocate for spreading the costs across the entire population regardless of usage.   For programs like roads though, I prefer user fees.  If I don’t use it, I don’t see the need to pay for the roads/bridges I don’t use.  I have a half decent defense of this position and I hope the difference between our education system and our road system is understood as it relates to social benefit.  However, I do see the potential for social injustice in a toll where everybody pays the same.  High tolls then have a disproportionate effect on those least able to pay them.  In the end though, I feel like in the mountain of social injustice in our world, road tolls (even the pay to avoid traffic ones) fall somewhere after pretty much everything I can think of at the moment.

Ok that was a definite sidetrack.  There are two important points I want to make.  The first revolves around the fact that, according to the article, the Transportation Secretary said that the corresponding decrease in revenue “can be offset with unanticipated extra revenues and spending reductions.”  How do you fill a revenue hole by anticipating “unanticipated” revenue?  It’s a little sillier but not much sillier than the Kittleman Administration’s claim that they will make up the money they used one time funds for next year with an improved economy.   I’m legitimately curious, is this Republicans naively believing their policies will turn the economy into gold or are they reading financial tealeaves and laying the groundwork to claim credit for an improved economy?

My second more important point brings it squarely back to HoCo.   The corresponding cuts from the toll decreases, again according to the article, will mostly revolve around repair of bridges and roads and overall investment in this infrastructure.  Here in Howard County, the Executive’s now approved budget put exactly zero dollars in road resurfacing.  Others have talked about this but it is worth repeating.  It’s crazy.  Truthfully, the repercussions may not be felt even with this political term, but make no mistake, they will be felt by all of us and once we fall this far behind a resurfacing schedule, it will take us years to catch back up.  Of all the moves made by the Administration thus far, this one might easily be the most damaging to Howard County.  

[1] You know because Herbert Hoover preceded the greatest infrastructure investment program in US History?  See what I did there?  Hello?  Is this thing on?
[2] I was going to say bonanza but it reminded me of Brooklyn 99 this season where the lead can’t decide between Bingo and Jackpot so he ends up saying “Bingpot” which is really fun to say as an exclamation!


  1. @font-face { font-family: “MS 明朝”; }@font-face { font-family:… Your catchy titles keep having an HTML problem on HoCoBlogs. Seems something is wrong there. @font-face { font-family: “MS 明朝”; }@font-face { font-family:…

  2. Thanks for the heads up, I hadn't seen that. Let me see what I can do to fix it.

  3. I so agree with you on this. When I saw that there was zero funding for road re-surfacing this year, I thought it had to be wrong - that it couldn't actually be true. There are some roads in the county that are already in terrible shape - check out 175 near Rt.1, esp the overpasses. On my own street, it feels like I'm always dodging one bad patch to another trying to get out of the neighborhood. As you said, this is the sort of thing that gets ugly fast, and then takes a long time to fix. Infrastructure repair and investment is desperately needed in this country, including in HoCo, and I can't understand why the politicians making decisions don't see that. Do all the bridges have to fall down before they decide to repair them?

  4. Thanks for your comments Carrie. Someone actually told me about the zero funding for road re-surfacing and this was, more or less, the conversation that followed:

    Me: You mean $0 increase in the road re-surfacing budget
    Person: No, I mean $0 total
    Me: That's simply not possible
    Person: You don't believe me?
    Me: No, I think you're wrong
    Person: Well then let me show you
    Me: [comment deleted for profanity]

    Maybe a little too much detail but it's pretty crazy. If anything we have been underfunding road resurfacing the last few years because of the economy, as you indicate there are many roads that are showing a pressing need for re-surfacing. I don't get the decision and it will have major long term consequences.