When I see Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn’s name in the first paragraph of a story on Slate.com, I have to read the rest.
That’s especially true if the article is “No More Roads. Republicans and Democrats can’t wait to pour money into your highways. That’s a dead end.”
Henry Grabar of Slate’s Moneybox has an interesting take on the solution to the road dilemma: How can states bent on spending less money on government spend more on government-funded roads?
It seems Grabar had his accelerator pushed by the I-85 collapse in Atlanta last week.
“The black smokes unspooled into the sky, where it might as well have spelled out three words: roads and bridges,” he wrote.
He is not a fan of road and bridge spending. Say “roads and bridges” three times fast, he promises, and a concrete lobbyist will pick up your dinner tab. I tried it. It didn’t happen. I think he was kidding.
But he’s not kidding about roads, at least the roads he’s least likely to drive on. He would just as soon those roads reverted to gravel. He says that’s because the rural population is shrinking and the road-building binge since 1980 has been “facilitating sprawl, harming the environment, undermining Main Street commerce, and draining local budgets.”
He lists all sorts of benefits of “unpaving,” his term for turning asphalt byways into gravel roads. One thing is missing: a recounting of his adventures driving on gravel roads. Allow me to fill in the blanks.
It’s 1962 or so and my grandfather is ferrying my brother and me between my parents’ home and his, about 3 miles west in Mulkeytown, down a “white-rock” road. That’s sort of the Cadillac of gravel roads. They are made of crushed limestone, in this case probably from the Anna Quarry about 30 miles south.
Grandpa was no NASCAR driver. He whistled “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” as it were a dirge and drove in time with the beat. And yet the white rock ricocheted off the undercarriage and the tires struggled to maintain their grip should he get out of the twin ruts where the going was smoother.
A few years later, as teens, we had a $45 car that we’d drive to the abandoned mines, home of the true gravel roads, which were full of curves that taken at just the right speed, about .5 mph from out of control, produced a rooster tail of gravel, aka coal dust. It was great practice for driving on ice and snow.
I can remember being ordered to slow down as we approached a yard full of occupied lawn chairs and still we sent the people and their chairs scurrying for cover from a fogbank of gravel dust.
Grabar, who left Yale in 2012, according to LinkedIn, and likely never lived on a gravel road, recounts the the upside.
“Unpaving,” he writes, “can be used to slow traffic (true) and adapt a road to diminished use.”
He says unpaved roads are cheaper to build than concrete (check) and cheaper and easier to repair (check).
But even though governments are looking at them as a way to save money, they are a tough sell, according to the Unpaved Roads Institute. Why? There might be a hint in the institute’s name. It once was the Road Dust Institute.
There are miles and miles of asphalt, even in the more rural areas of the relatively densely populated Coast. There would be a ton of money to be saved. Temptation could be great.