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Monday, July 27, 2009

Destimulated roads 


If you've spent any time driving in states with powerful construction unions or large Democratic constituencies, you can see the stimulus package at work. Roads have been ripped up all over the place, but you do not see a lot of new asphalt going down. The result is traffic jams, wasted -- eek! -- carbon, exhausted kids, and, I assume, spousal recriminations over navigational choices gone wrong. If this impression is correct (and everybody I spoke with this weekend supports it), what is going on?

One theory advanced by an employee in our company whose husband is a road contractor is that there has been too much rain in the northeast, and too few puddle-free days, to put down new pavement. In this telling, Allah is trashing our summer in two ways, by ruining our day at the beach and our drive home.

Another theory is that there is a national asphalt shortage, and that the government officials who kicked off these supposedly "shovel ready" projects failed to account for it. This strikes me as fairly inexplicable, insofar as the national shortage of asphalt was well known last fall when Barack Obama's stimulus package was but a gleam in Nancy Pelosi's eye. From November 9, 2008:

Expect a bumpier drive. An asphalt shortage is delaying road maintenance projects in communities nationwide. Asphalt is becoming scarce as U.S. refiners overhaul their equipment to maximize output of highly profitable fuels such as diesel and gasoline, using inexpensive — and hard to process — crude oil....

Dozens of road repairs were delayed last summer and municipalities around the country may face another shortfall next summer. Road-maintenance projects that have gone forward cost significantly more as the price of asphalt nearly tripled over the past year.

Apparently "shovel ready" was the wrong metric. We were shovel ready, and even jackhammer ready, but we were not pavement ready.

Delays on the highways are very costly, even in mere dollars. People burn more gasoline and cancel trips they otherwise would take. More importantly, shipping costs go up. Not only do the truckers use more fuel and pay more wages per mile, but delays have knock-on effects in our just-in-time economy. Are there factories that lost a shift because they were missing an input that was stalled on Interstate 81?

All of this waste is a not insubstantial "tax" on the economy. The only question is whether it has outweighed the benefits of the poorly-planned "stimulus" that caused it.

13 Comments:

By Anonymous meta-4, at Mon Jul 27, 08:06:00 AM:

Uummmmmm, let's see. Asphalt.... Hmmmm.... A carbon rich product?. oh yeah........


My guess is that asphalt is now and forever banned in Obamaland.......

I hear they're working on an organic soybean based substitute for it. Probably 'shovel ready by' 2018

Or not.  

By Anonymous SouthernRoots, at Mon Jul 27, 08:31:00 AM:

Besides, if you're mad about being stuck on a road, the government will insist that you'll feel better by leaving your car at home and riding transit....

They do it that way in Seattle all the time.  

By Blogger Mike, at Mon Jul 27, 09:38:00 AM:

I hate to point out New Jersey doing anything right, but have you noticed how *well* some recent construction projects have gone?

Think about Rt 1 in North Brunswick or 18 in New Brunswick. Massive changes to heavily trafficked roads. Minimal disruption during construction, quick pace, big improvements, and work that looks ready to survive the long haul. Hell, they even got the union guys working nights.

Granted, this is not every NJ road project. But I don't remember this *ever* happening 20 years ago. If they keep this up, I may be a little less surly thinking about how much this stimulus is costing.  

By Blogger randian, at Mon Jul 27, 09:49:00 AM:

They do it that way in Seattle all the time.

Portland, OR obeys that philosophy too. They think LA's traffic situation is one to emulate.

For all its problems, I've found that California's road projects are much less disruptive than Northeastern ones. For one thing, California tries do to all their work at night, whereas Northeastern states (and FL) seem to have no problem with lanes being blocked off 24/7 for months on end, plus work is done during the day when its maximally disruptive.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 27, 10:45:00 AM:

Why are they using asphalt in the first place? Dosen't it absorb the heat. Aren't we supposed to use light colored product like cement to reflect the sun's rays?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 27, 11:04:00 AM:

I'm no expert on federal spending, but isn't the money for summer 2009 highway construction all coming from the now nearly depleted Highway Trust Fund?

Most stimulus money for highway repair won't be released for some time yet to come. The states had an end of June deadline to determine what projects for which the first 50% of the highway money in the bill was going to be used, but most states were expected to miss the deadline. My guess would be that if the states can identify the projects for the first 50% of highway stimulus spending during the summer of 2009, then construction can start in the fall. Maybe that means we should expect construction delays to continue on straight through the rest of 2009!  

By Blogger TOF, at Mon Jul 27, 11:55:00 AM:

It's a characteristic of government weenies trying to push money out the door that they often neglect small issues like logistics. Asphalt and cement are two commodities that are produced according to expected need. If demand unexpectedly rises the producers cannot react quickly.

This is vaguely reminiscent of the story floating around right now about some congressional types wanting ammend the laws of physics. Don't know whether it's true or not, but given the players named in the story it's at least plausible.

Lawyers. Those folks give 'em a bad name. Right, TH?  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Mon Jul 27, 12:01:00 PM:

Oh shut up and cough up the green. LOL (lots of layers there). Conservatives love highways dollars, cause the same construction firms benefit. And unions aren't so progressive on certian things as you think (analogous to Big Pharma taking a less strident stand when it comes to healthcare reform). On the flipside, conservatives hate mass transit. Too egalitarian to mix the different kids of folk on the same mode of transportation, I suppose.

Or maybe the money's been sucked away to China. Today the reds are grousing, wanting us to be more merchantilist/more govt control. That might help. And after all, it was conservatives/big business who sold the country (not just debt) to these tools in the first place. Why shouldn't they have a say, distasteful as that may be? Why can't new Jersey look like Shanghai of 2009 (people movers and slick autobahns) minus the pollution lol)? The answer--b/c of the hypocritcal, silly "less government/NIMBY/I don't want THOSE people around me" mantra...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 27, 12:50:00 PM:

Ha! Sounds like Tigerhawk lost an hour and a half of his life in that atrocity just south of Wilkes-Barre. Many cones, little actual repair.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Mon Jul 27, 08:15:00 PM:

TH, I wonder if some of your problems aren't jurisdictions that don't talk to each other? City/County/State roads being torn up at the same time in a given area. If they would coordinate their road maintenance there would be alternate routes available. Just a thought.  

By Blogger randian, at Mon Jul 27, 08:49:00 PM:

isn't the money for summer 2009 highway construction all coming from the now nearly depleted Highway Trust Fund?

The Fund wouldn't be depleted if large chunks of it weren't diverted to rail projects.  

By Blogger randian, at Mon Jul 27, 08:51:00 PM:

Too egalitarian to mix the different kids of folk on the same mode of transportation, I suppose.

No, it's way too expensive for what you get, which isn't much. Public transit (especially rail) is a black hole of worthlessness.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed Jul 29, 05:17:00 AM:

"shut up and cough up the green"

Chrissy, inadvertently or not, sums up BO's political philosophy in seven words. Which is what you'd expect from someone like BO who has *never* worked an honest day in his life. Seriously. He has *no* record of accomplishment in his adult life. Palin has far more.  

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