Why The Roads Are So Bad

The Toledo Blade
April 5th, 2016


Reports in The Blade last month that northbound I-75 will close at I-280 for seven months likely gave motorists an early case of road rage.

Whenever Toledo-area drivers think their commutes can’t get worse, more teeth-rattling potholes sprout on their favorite route to work, or another road closes.
This one is a whopper. Northbound I-75 will shut down in North Toledo, probably in early June, because of problems with replacing two bridges over ramps at the I-280 junction. The mile-long detour, which mercifully avoids most city streets, is expected to cause major delays during peak traffic hours.

While motorists idle in traffic this summer, or dodge potholes, they should ponder how driving got this miserable, and why there aren’t alternatives.

One answer: We’re paying for years of neglect and shortsighted policies. Roads in need of repair have become roads in need of rebuilding.

The Federal Highway Administration says nearly 25 percent of Ohio’s 27,000 bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. More than 40 percent of Ohio’s roads are in poor or mediocre shape. Driving on them costs each Ohio motorist, on average, more than $200 a year in vehicle repairs. It’s called the bump-and-thump tax.

Ohio does even worse on mass transit, ranking near the nation’s bottom in state spending. It must do better to ease congestion and meet the mobility, energy, and environmental needs of the 21st century.

Spotty coverage by the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority doesn’t offer a viable alternative for most car owners who want transportation options. Others have little choice. Nearly 14 percent of Toledo households don’t have access to a vehicle.

Too little money is part of the problem. Ohioans today spend far less on transportation than did their parents, including preventive road maintenance that prolongs pavement life.

Cars are more fuel efficient — which is good — so motorists pay less in gas taxes. Meantime, asphalt and other construction costs continue to rise.

The federal gas tax — 18.4 cents a gallon — hasn’t risen since 1993. So the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for a large share of Ohio’s transportation projects, is practically running on empty.

For years, the fund has spent billions of dollars more than it has collected in gasoline taxes. That can’t go on indefinitely. Ohio’s 28-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline has not gone up in more than a decade. Like most states, Ohio doesn’t adjust its gas tax with inflation.

Fuel taxes are no longer the best way to pay for transportation projects. Even so, until states and the federal government come up with a better way, we’re stuck with them. Switching to another funding source, such as odometer or other mileage-based taxes, would take years.

Spineless politicians can take much of the blame. They would rather watch the nation’s infrastructure crumble than tell the truth: The fantasy of having excellent roads that we don’t have to pay for can’t continue.

Residents — and that’s all of us — aren’t helping matters, either. We actually believe we can have great roads without paying for them. Or, we would rather drive on obsolete, unsafe, and dilapidated roads and bridges than pay a few more cents a gallon at the pump for decent roads — even when gas prices are below $2 a gallon.

Building a first-rate and balanced transportation system will require us to pay-as-we-go, and think ahead. That’s not much fun, but neither is dodging potholes and traffic jams.

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