How Exactly Will New Taxes Fix Our Infrastructure?

 

MianusBridgeCollapse-610x404After graduating from high school in 1983, I took a weeklong vacation to Cape Cod with my friends. On the ride home, I drove over the Mianus River Bridge in Connecticut. Shortly after that, the bridge collapsed.

Now, when I say “shortly”, I mean about four or five hours later. I was driving southbound. It was the northbound span that gave way. So maybe this wasn’t such a close call. But bridges should not fall apart beneath you. I get that. I understand the importance of infrastructure spending. 

What I also get is that both the federal and state governments collect taxes on every gallon of gas sold. I get that there are toll roads and bridges. I get that a near-trillion dollar stimulus package was passed in 2009.

So when I hear politicians crying about our “crumbling infrastructure,” I get that what they really want is more taxes to spend. Maintaining roads and bridges is very important. I just don’t trust the government to do the most effective job of spending that money.

I still go to Cape Cod every year. When you stand on the outer beach, you can, as Thoreau said, put all of America behind you (although the seals are becoming a bit of a nuisance). This year, I got to see a small example of a government road project there.

The intersection of routes 28 and 6A used to look like this:Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 10.36.20 AM

If you were going straight on either road, you had your own lane, but if you wanted to turn left, you had to make a left turn. That seemed fine to me and to most of the locals I spoke to.

But since the state was willing to fund it, the intersection was transformed into this:Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 10.06.59 AM

Now everyone gets to yield and follow the zig-zagging arrows. It’s easier to go left now, but harder to go straight (I think in this part of the country left is more desired than straight anyhow). The number of accidents, I’ve been told, has remained about the same. But since everyone is so confused from trying to follow the squiggly lines, the cars involved in the accidents are going much slower than before.

Knowing that, one could claim this a worthwhile project, but was it worth the seven-digit price tag? I am not asking that rhetorically. I honestly have no idea what something like this would cost in the private sector.

From the picture, you can see that there’s too much curbing. That’s really my biggest problem with this project. I had the pleasure of meeting a local fireman this summer; he told me was that because of the project’s design, they can’t get their trucks through that intersection. Fire trucks have to take a detour. Everyone else has to drive really slowly and in a serpentine path, and taxpayers get to spend over $1,300,000. This just one small example out of thousands.

So tell me: How exactly will new taxes will fix our crumbling infrastructure?

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    One problem on the Cape is the sheer number of federal, state, regional, and local government agencies and whatnot that have to sign off on all public works projects. Everyone gets to ask for something in return for supporting it.

    I know the area where this little rotary was just installed. Seeing it in your aerial photographs confirms that it is as crazy as I thought it was when I last drove through it.

    If I’m not mistaken, there is a Christmas Tree Shop at that intersection. The towns love to extort money from them to fix intersections. So there’s another element in the crazy design.

    You mention the curbs–curbs aren’t very common on the Cape. But I know that that part of Cape Cod is trying to be more walkable and bikable, so that may explain that feature.

    The roads are crazy on Cape Cod. It’s part of the charm, and it keeps the tourists busy trying to figure out how to get around. :)

    I can’t believe the fire trucks can’t get through that intersection. That’s pretty wild. They must have missed the meeting! :) It’s inconceivable that the Orleans town planner would not have been aware of that issue. These plans take years to gain community approval.

    On the other hand, maybe they don’t want to try it most days anyway. That spot can get relatively jammed up with cars in the summertime.

    Great post!

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    As for the money: I wish the road builders would consider bridges more often for Cape Cod. The rotary road patterns the engineers design for Cape Cod intersections are crazy and, as you said, very expensive. I think someone needs to retire. It’s gotta be the same guy–they all look the same. :)

    • #2
  3. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Yes Marci, that is just past the Christmas Tree Shop. My mother is up there all summer and her hairdresser in Orleans. When she went to get her hair cut they told her, and all of their other customers, alternative routes home to avoid the “fixed” intersection.

    Seeing it in person made me laugh, but talking to the fireman made me realize just how bad it was (maybe the engineers all drive Smart cars?). The only good thing he could say about it was that the state, rather than the town, paid for it.

    • #3
  4. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    The main rationale for having rotaries is to eliminate traffic lights, which is understandable.  However, since there isn’t any apparent lights in the original picture, the rotary probably wasn’t needed, unless traffic dictated that lights were now needed.

    After a visit to England this summer, I saw where rotaries made sense (on non busy local roads) and where they were a pain, on the U.S. Highway equivalent (Axxx, where x is a number) major roads.

    Maybe some U.S. rotaries exist to get us accustom to one world thinking.  Since this is done in Europe, it must be done here. Why should people have to wait for a left turn while others get to go right through the intersection?  Let’s slow everyone down equally.

    • #4
  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Vance Richards:Yes Marci, that is just past the Christmas Tree Shop. My mother is up there all summer and her hairdresser in Orleans. When she went to get her hair cut they told her, and all of their other customers, alternative routes home to avoid the “fixed” intersection.

    Seeing it in person made me laugh, but talking to the fireman made me realize just how bad it was (maybe the engineers all drive Smart cars?). The only good thing he could say about it was that the state, rather than the town, paid for it.

    That explains a lot. The picture really shows how ridiculous the design is.

    The state and Route 6A–it’s always a disaster.

    That is wild. The poor hairdresser.

    I’ll bet the local businesses are angry.

    I have lived here happily for thirty years. I love it, but I can’t explain anything that goes on here.

    It’s a funny place, for sure.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cape Cod Commission had something to do with that mess. But maybe even the feds. Orleans is in the National Seashore zone.

    All I can think when I look at that picture is what my old Italian mother-in-law used to say: too many cooks . . .

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    The first rotary in the United States was built in Bass River, South Yarmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts:

    200px-South-Yarmouth_rotary

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Traffic circles are proof positive that our forebears were right to throw off the yoke of foreign oppression.

    • #7
  8. Dustoff Inactive
    Dustoff
    @Dustoff

    I am not a traffic engineer, but am an architect. Fair to say I think, when any design is painful to look at, when it assaults your sensibilities, looks like gibberish, makes no immediate sense, appears out of place and exudes chaos, one can reasonably conclude something has gone terribly wrong.

    The aerial says it all. It appears to be a solution looking for a problem. Hey, sorta like government work.

    No one would actually pay to have this fine Improvement (1.3 mil?) designed and then actually built with their own money, in their own town. Geesch.

    • #8
  9. Joseph Eagar Member
    Joseph Eagar
    @JosephEagar

    The U.S. isn’t really in the stage of development where massive public financing of infrastructure is very beneficial.  Arguably what we need is public/private partnerships which, in fact, is what wonks in both parties have been proposing for years.

    It is true that the inflation-adjusted value of the gasoline tax has fallen, and it probably should be raised.  Given the way retiring Boomers are going to start eating into discretionary spending, we really should be giving capital projects their own revenue streams.  We can do most of that with public/private partnerships and user fees, but I don’t think that would work for the interstate highway system as a whole.

    • #9
  10. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    Last year, Missouri politicians wanted a “regressive” 3/4 a cent sale tax to fund streetcars among other things in Kansas City.  (Why not bring back pony rides too?)  However, Leftists complained that 85% of the revenue would have gone towards roads and just 7% for corrupt local unions, I mean governments.  (Roads are now a luxury item?)  The proposal was rejected by 59% of the voters.

    • #10
  11. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Joseph Eagar:The U.S. isn’t really in the stage of development where massive public financing of infrastructure is very beneficial. Arguably what we need is public/private partnerships which, in fact, is what wonks in both parties have been proposing for years.

    I agree that the Obama stimulus wasn’t the answer, and that Public/Private toll roads can help, but they are fraught with excessive corruption. There are times when a new road is needed. Here are two examples, due to geography.

    In NW Indiana near Gary, there are two major roads, I-90 (already a Private toll road!) and I-80/I-94, the Frank Borman expressway. If an expressway was built from Valparaiso IN to Joliet IL, it would relieve traffic that just needs to go west on I-80 or south on I-57 / I-55.

    I-40 from Memphis to Little Rock Arkansas is two lanes of trucks until it splits into I-30.  Either build another lane or extend US 67 to parallel I-55 to Sikeston MO, re-routing trucks going to Texas from the north, while greatly shortening the distance.

    In the 1950’s and 1960’s, we built most of the Interstates.  We still need a few new ones now.

    • #11
  12. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Obviously someone went to Europe and thought roundabouts are a great idea. We see them popping up everywhere but I never understood the point of a one lane roundabout, when a much cheaper four-way stop intersection would do just fine. Roundabouts make sense when they are multi-lane and in high traffic areas, but then you have this problem:

    • #12
  13. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Marion Evans: Obviously someone went to Europe and thought roundabouts are a great idea. We see them popping up everywhere but I never understood the point of a one lane roundabout, when a much cheaper four-way stop intersection would do just fine. Roundabouts make sense when they are multi-lane and in high traffic areas, but then you have this problem

    As previously reported, I found the opposite to be mostly true in England.  When multiple lane roads intersected with each other, the roundabouts could be very messy, such that they had to add traffic lights anyway.  The stoplights were like expressway entrance ramps here, however, the lights were green for only one spoke at a time, unlike the standard two way lights used here.  When travelling on one Axxx route for a long distance, this constant stoppage seemed counterproductive.

    Other than taking some extra land, one lane roundabouts on moderately traveled roads allows for little to no stoppage, whereas 4 way stop signs guarantee a stop. The Lorries (Trucks) appreciated this option, as once they entered the roundabout, no one would argue with them.

    Like many things, roundabouts aren’t the answer to everything, but they seem to work OK in Carmel IN, a suburb of Indianapolis.

    • #13
  14. Chris Johnson Inactive
    Chris Johnson
    @user_83937

    The design and engineering aspects having been discussed, about that increase in taxes for infrastructure….

    Where I live, it is not legal for Property Tax to be collected unless it can be shown that it directly benefits the property owners.  I noticed an increase in the millage in our coming tax bill, attributed to the necessity for funding the fire department, thus legal.  However, we have a rather robust fire department in place, in an area not experiencing rapid growth.  Plus, millage is calculated as thousandths of a dollar for the assessed value of the tax base, so as the existing base appreciates, the revenue increases.  Similarly, as you add to the base with new development, revenue increases.  So why would a millage increase be necessary for fire protection?

    As I dig further, I am sure I will find that the real issue is that my city council has diverted funds that previously paid for fire protection, into something that the residents would likely find less palatable.  Perhaps we hired diversity executives and funded a global warming response team.

    My only point is that this will require me to dig and possibly ruffle some feathers.  Unfortunately, all politics are local and I suppose we must all become increasingly vigilant as to the machinations in our local governments.  Conservatives hate meetings and are unlikely to be able to bear the inanity and drudgery associated with governance.  But we can’t count on our newspapers, or local media to keep us apprised.

    • #14
  15. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Ever been to D.C.? They put traffic lights in the roundabouts. That should tell you everything you need to know about the design and the designers.

    • #15
  16. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Even Keyensians rejected infrastructure as counter cyclical spending. But bad ideas are hard to kill when the idea serves powerful interests. It is pretty straightforward to evaluate the economics of such projects , and when the return is high citizens know it. The problem is always the same, federal money is someone else’s money and it will be misspent by people who may or may not benefit from the resulting infrastructure,. Federal regulations drive the costs up and the returns down. Local regulations do the same but at least locally there is some accountability. Nothing is perfect but when real people engage over real interests and challenges they do pretty well over time. The federal government gets worse over time. The interstate highway was necessary and well done, but done by the guy who planned the Normandy invasion. It’s great, now go home.

    • #16
  17. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    I’m really tired of all of you thinking like losers. This is really simple. We’re going to hire the best people who know how to get things done. They’ll be terrific I tell you, much better than those idiots working on this stuff now. I promise you that in a few years you’re going to be almost tired of driving on such great roads and bridges. It’s gonna be YUUUGE!!!

    • #17
  18. Spin Inactive
    Spin
    @Spin

    On the bright side, it looks like it will be a perfect corner for a future F1 race.

    • #18
  19. DrewInWisconsin Coolidge
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Within the last decade, several roundabouts have been popping up like weeds in Our Fair City and several nearby cities where I travel frequently.

    I heard — and I have no confirmation, but I’m curious now — that there was some deal about who pays for redoing the intersections. If you put in a roundabout, there is a state (or is it federal?) program that pays for it. But if you retain the normal “American” intersection with traffic lights or stop signs, then the municipality has to pay for it themselves.

    If anyone has more details, please share, but I believe the steady replacement of normal intersections with roundabouts is one of those government perverse incentives.

    It dawns on me that we could perhaps get the Green lobby to oppose roundabouts because they take up more room that could be left to trees and flowers. (On the other hand, they usually require cities to use eminent domain laws so they can pave over the front lawns of property owners, and Greenists generally hate privately owned land.)

    • #19
  20. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    DrewInWisconsin: I heard — and I have no confirmation, but I’m curious now — that there was some deal about who pays for redoing the intersections. If you put in a roundabout, there is a state (or is it federal?) program that pays for it. But if you retain the normal “American” intersection with traffic lights or stop signs, then the municipality has to pay for it themselves.

    That sounds incredibly arbitrary. In other words, it sounds like something the government would do. I wonder if it is true.

    • #20
  21. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    If the Feds want to get serious about fixing infrastructure, they will repeal Davis-Bacon and exempt infrastructure repair projects from the EPA.  Until that happens, I’m not going to take their demands for more of my tax money any more seriously than they are taking fixing the infrastructure.

    • #21
  22. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    The King Prawn:Ever been to D.C.? They put traffic lights in the roundabouts. That should tell you everything you need to know about the design and the designers.

    The other delightful engineering feature they like in D.C. is to put in these unmarked turns which, if you take them, you find yourself on the Northbound I-95 and you can’t turn around until somewhere in Jersey.

    • #22
  23. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Dustoff:I am not a traffic engineer, but am an architect. Fair to say I think, when any design is painful to look at, when it assaults your sensibilities, looks like gibberish, makes no immediate sense, appears out of place and exudes chaos, one can reasonably conclude something has gone terribly wrong.

    The aerial says it all.It appears to be a solution looking for a problem. Hey, sorta like government work.

    No one would actually pay to have this fine Improvement (1.3 mil?) designed and then actually built with their own money, in their own town.Geesch.

    Yes, this seems to work as well as it looks. And even if a circle was the right way to go, do you really need all of those little concrete islands. They are what make this impassable to large vehicles. If they had just painted in those triangles, it might work a little better . . . at least for the fire department.

    • #23
  24. DrewInWisconsin Coolidge
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    In roundabouts (at least around here) the circles are at pavement level, with a slightly sloping rise to the center. It’s the only way semis can get through them . . . by basically driving right over them. Which defeats the purpose donnit?

    • #24
  25. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Vance Richards:

    Yes, this seems to work as well as it looks. And even if a circle was the right way to go, do you really need all of those little concrete islands. They are what make this impassable to large vehicles. If they had just painted in those triangles, it might work a little better . . . at least for the fire department.

    In England, they make the center section a slight mound, enough to remind (and discourage) the small cars, but not high enough to stop the Lorries if they need the room. Why didn’t they do that here?

    • #25
  26. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    My son-in-law is an assistant town planner in Vermont. He also loves the Cape. He posted this link on his Facebook page today. A good tour of Cape Cod:

    http://granolashotgun.com/2015/10/21/modern-codes-and-zoning-could-save-this-town/?utm_content=buffer72ba5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    • #26
  27. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    For those of us who lived in the area near the Mianus River bridge, that event was like a local 9/11, before 9/11.  It was shocking, tragic, and infuriating to see such a collapse occur.  Of course, instead of malevolent human beings being the cause, it was negligent ones, and storm drains that had been blocked for 10 years, causing hidden rust.

    Eileen W. was a friendly academic rival of mine.  We were two of three National Merit Scholarship finalists in our high school class.  She was the sole winner from our school.  She went off to Georgetown University and was ready to start her career when the Mianus bridge collapsed under her Toyota.  She is one of the three who survived.

    I never saw her after our high school graduation, but I heard that she had a long and painful recovery and is partially paralyzed.  I have also heard that, happily, she has two children.  I understand that she does not discuss the incident, so the periodic requests for “anniversary” interviews must be painful for her.

    Some said that the state had only a handful of inspectors and oh-so-many bridges under their responsibility.  I am unsympathetic to this excuse.  The number of bridges (over 2,000 by my recollection) no doubt includes two-lane spans crossing modest brooks in little villages.  The Mianus bridge should have been one their top priorities.  But for ten years, they failed to even unclog the storm drains.

    • #27
  28. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Johnny Dubya:For those of us who lived in the area near the Mianus River bridge, that event was like a local 9/11, before 9/11. It was shocking, tragic, and infuriating to see such a collapse occur. Of course, instead of malevolent human beings being the cause, it was negligent ones, and storm drains that had been blocked for 10 years, causing hidden rust.

    Eileen W. was a friendly academic rival of mine. We were two of three National Merit Scholarship finalists in our high school class. She was the sole winner from our school. She went off to Georgetown University and was ready to start her career when the Mianus bridge collapsed under her Toyota. She is one of the three who survived.

    I never saw her after our high school graduation, but I heard that she had a long and painful recovery and is partially paralyzed. I have also heard that, happily, she has two children. I understand that she does not discuss the incident, so the periodic requests for “anniversary” interviews must be painful for her.

    The fact that people survived that is truly amazing. Can’t imagine what the recovery must have been like.

    • #28
  29. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Larry3435:

    The King Prawn:Ever been to D.C.? They put traffic lights in the roundabouts. That should tell you everything you need to know about the design and the designers.

    The other delightful engineering feature they like in D.C. is to put in these unmarked turns which, if you take them, you find yourself on the Northbound I-95 and you can’t turn around until somewhere in Jersey.

    And then, once in Jersey, you find that it’s impossible to turn left because of the Jersey barriers!

    • #29
  30. CuriousKevmo Member
    CuriousKevmo
    @CuriousKevmo

    Fire trucks have to detour.  Genius.

    • #30

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