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This post was inspired by a discussion I was involved in over at Freedom, by the way’s shop a few days ago. We were off in side discussion about maintaining roads in post about stupid debate questions. Here’s her comment (excerpted a bit).
Folks may not realize but before the national Interstate system was built there was a HUGE constitutional discussion about whether the federal government had the constitutional power to use taxpayer dollars for building roads. (Roads were historically built and maintained by states and localities). I think the interstate system is a marvel, but it’s a shame that the federal transportation department has turned into this monstrosity that takes everyone’s tax dollars and doles them out to the states and localities for projects–with a bigger price tag–state control. Why did every state raise their drinking age to 21? Because if they refused, federal transportation dollars would be withheld. It would have been much better for the federal transportation dept. to simply have been a project manager for a limited time and then gotten out of the road business. The state DOTs are responsible for maintenance anyway. Ditto for education. Why do our tax dollars leave our state, go to DC, and then get funneled back to the state? CONTROL, that’s why.
This is my response also excerpted:
Excellent point, which of course is why the official name is “Interstate and Defense Highway”. We’ve periodically had the same discussion/argument all the way back to the National Road. This was also a factor in the land grant railroads; they had to carry troops at a very low rate as part of the deal.
You’re right on control also. By the way, states are no better. Here if the city wants to put a stop sign on a state highway, they have to get the state to approve it, after umpteen studies and whatnot.
It used to be up to the neighboring property owners, by the way. Trucking companies pay enough use taxes combined with your gas taxes to maintain them though, except for market anomalies caused by the government. For instance where I live a laborer makes about $10-12 at most, unless he works for a paving contractor. Then he makes Omaha union scale (which is reasonable in Omaha but, not here) which is about $25 an hour, more than a skilled journeyman electrician does.
She is very right on the control. Remember how the feds forced us into the ridiculous 55 mph speed limit. OK, it might be reasonable some places around major cities, but if you’ve ever driven across Nebraska (or Texas or Montana) you’ll readily recognize what I mean.
Talk about a time waster and it didn’t save much fuel either, cars in the early 70’s were designed to operate at 75 to 80 miles an hour. It has to do with gearing and power, every mechanical system has an optimum operating speed.
Does the government have to maintain the roads? Local ones maybe, at the county or state level at most.
Here we get right back to theory of government: states are plenary governments, they can do anything not prohibited. The Federal government, on the other hand, is a government of enumerated powers. It can only do those things it is permitted to do. That’s the theory behind the Constitution and a lot of the problems we have today stem from our multiple violations of that theory.
Anyway, maintaining paved highways is not like keeping the dirt roads of the nineteenth century passable. It takes equipment and engineering knowledge beyond the average homeowners. That’s why it has evolved to being a government job.
Interstate and major Federal highways don’t have to be done force account by the government, though. Indiana, for instance, seems pretty happy with their decision to privatize the Indiana Toll Road (for those who don’t know, both I-90 and I-80 run on the Indiana Toll Road). From what I hear, it’s better maintained and the price is lower (or hasn’t gone up as much, which is pretty much the same thing) than it was under state control.
The thing is, those major highways, like the Interstates, you don’t have to use them, almost everywhere the roads they replaced, the state and federal highways still exist and are pretty good, albeit slower.
About those earlier roads, US 30 for the most part follows the route of the Lincoln Highway, which ran from New York to San Fransisco, was built by a private association. Out here in Nebraska, for example, I-80 follows US 30, which follows the Lincoln Highway, which follows the Union Pacific, which follows the Oregon Trail, which followed the Mormon Trail which followed the Platte river.
Forming a year earlier was the Yellowstone Trail, which was a grassroots effort as opposed to the business backing enjoyed by the Lincoln Highway (like the Pennsylvania Railroad). The Yellowstone Trail ran from Plymouth, Massachusetts all the way to Seattle, Washington across the northern states.
Anyway the point I’m making here is that is really no need for the federal government to be involved in roads. Wouldn’t it make better sense to pay somewhat more state taxes (or form more toll roads or turnpikes, an earlier term, for you Easterners, which comes from England where they quite literally turned a pike after the toll was paid) and keep 100% of your states money at home rather than paying federal taxes and getting maybe 60% back.
The other point is that what we need in roads in central Nebraska is not what is needed in suburban Washington D.C., and not to be too parochial about it, why should we be paying for your roads.