Today's story of infrastructure funding woes comes from Omaha, NE, where dozens of streets have been turned from pothole-filled asphalt into dirt roads. The Denver Post reports:
Thanks to a quirk in how Omaha developed, about 300 miles of streets in these nice neighborhoods are pitted with potholes almost big enough to swallow an SUV.
The bad roads have been both an anomaly and a source of complaints for years. But recently, they’ve become the center of a mini-crisis after local officials began dispatching crews to tear up the asphalt in the neighborhoods and turn the streets back into dirt roads, much like what existed in the city’s frontier days.
If you've been following along with recent road privatization and funding battles happening across the country, you won't be surprised to learn that residents on these dirt roads were not happy about the sudden change. As the Denver Post article continues:
The sudden appearance of miles of dirt road in the midst of urban Omaha has prompted angry protests by residents and showcased a conflict over what public services homeowners can expect when a modern city outgrows some of its old real estate agreements.
“No letter, no notice. We just came home on a Tuesday, and our street was ground up,” said Joe Skradski, a dentist who lives on 113th Street, where a dozen $400,000-and-up houses now line a dirt path.
To say there was no notice is a bit inaccurate. Actually these residents have had years of notice that their streets were deteriorating, and in fact, the developers who built them chose to pave with short-lasting asphalt instead of longer-lasting concrete to save money in the first place. So residents may not have been warned that the streets would be converted to gravel overnight, but they were certainly aware the streets were in poor condition, with little being done to solve that problem.
Once again, this story is a case of poor planning on the part of the city (and thus the citizens): Yes, let's build 4,800 miles of road in a city of 435,000 people. How will we pay for it? Let the guy who's in charge 20 years from now worry about that. Meanwhile, residents are either ill-informed about the situation or expecting money to appear out of thin air to repair their roads.
Residents in cities like this across the country are coming face to face with the reality that they can't have functioning roads without paying for them, and that bill comes due more often than they might like. Something gets lost in the math between "The city should keep up our roads" and "We don't want to personally pay for them." Who exactly is paying for them, if not the people who live there—whether in the form of tax dollars or out-of-pocket expenses?
For residents of Omaha, who, according to the article, "say that dirt roads or crumbling pavement are unworthy of a well-off community with a growing population, a tiny unemployment rate and four Fortune 500 companies," I say: You're not as wealthy as you think. When we factor in the maintenance costs of decades of overbuilt infrastructure, none of us are.
Check out our #NoNewRoads campaign to learn more about ending the unnecessary and financially unsustainable overbuilding of our road system.