Thursday, October 6, 2011

If You Drive In Michigan Bring Food & An RV

You know for a state with such a shortage of funds we seem to have no shortage of orange barrels and construction projects. In fact never have I been to state that has had so many construction projects with so little actual improvement. Michigan’s roads have consistently graced lists like Overdrive Magazine’s Highway Report Card for years. In 2009 we were #3 in the country for overall road crappiness. In 2010 we were #2. We’re achieving. Wonder where 2011 will place us?

Like thousands of other Michigan drivers I put up with it month after month, season after season, year after year, and simply pound my steering wheel and mutter in frustration. We make jokes about how Michigan has two seasons: Winter & Construction. We laugh at signs like “Road Work Ahead” and “Men Working” because nine times out of the ten there is nobody there (unless its rush hour or Holiday pay) except a long line of brake lights reflecting off orange cones beaming from cars driven by other probably ornery drivers. We as Michiganians have to laugh and make light of our predicament because if one really thought about the amount of taxpayer money that is spent on road construction and the overall results from that construction in this state; they’d be choking on a gun muzzle. So really who is to blame for shoddy roads?

The state likes to say it’s the snow. After all, Michigan is the only state of the union which gets snow and I am a unicorn. It’s not the construction crews fault. They’re trying to make a buck like everybody else and when you really look at the work they have to do you’ve got to respect the occupation. The blame lies with this state’s crown jewel of intellectual stagnancy: Lansing. You see up in Lansing there is a big old chamber containing a legislative body that blame likes to hang around with daily. Lansing is very blame friendly and rightfully so because they don’t have a freaking clue how to solve a problem. Like in most functioning (dysfunctional) government bodies, the working mantra tends to swing between the liberal favorite “How much money should we spend before we feel better about this problem?” to the conservative standard “How much should we cut taxes before we feel better about this problem?”. Note how the problem is never eradicated but covered up with a warm and fuzzy feeling blanket. This is called partisanship. Every once in a while both sides of the aisle get together and come up with a bipartisan policy that also does nothing to address or solve the problem. This is called the State of Michigan.

Every few years we go to our local polling places hoping that maybe somebody new will solve our problems but knowing deep down that they won’t. After all it’s easier to win an election by convincing the voting populace how much you’re needed rather than how much you’ve actually accomplished. People don’t like success stories. That’s why we blame the wealthy top 1% for every economic problem this country has. Americans like scapegoats. Americans also like theoretical utopias and they really love straw men. That’s why our leaders make statements like “Government creates jobs.” and “Hey, I don’t live in Cuba but Castro ain’t that bad a guy…” and “We should model our health care system after Cuba because it‘s quicker…” and “Hey China, I understand your one-child policy and I’m not second-guessing it“. I digress.

So basically our state government likes to throw around a bunch of big scary numbers about federal aid and state aid that scare the living crap out of Michiganians. They hear tall-tales about how cuts to MDOT’s budget will result in the road caving in and their Volvos falling into bizarre space and time continuum wormholes that will transport them to a completely parallel universe absent of all Starbucks (Idaho). Have no fear! I hear Idaho is quite nice in the summertime and the problem with our roads is not in funding but in application. We don’t build our roads with materials that can adequately sustain our winters (because our state likes to cut corners and our inspectors are all on the take) and we don’t enforce load restrictions on highways and local roads to keep overweight trucks and overweight drivers from carving up the roadways. If Michigan really wanted to get serious about fixing roads--they’d look at alternative building techniques and more importantly a complete reform of our road system from an administrative level. Yes I’m saying we need toll roads.

We can waste valuable time in the legislature (even though maybe that’s a good thing) debating about how much the taxpayers of Michigan should pay for a new bridge to Canada or a new wind farm somewhere or for corporate welfare to businesses on the MI GOP’s donor roll but nobody has to time to hear about a tolling system? Why is it that Michigan taxpayers are supposed to be fully responsible for the wear and tear being caused by out of state truckloads? It’s bad enough that Michigan taxpayers are paying to bribe businesses that have no interests or loyalty to this country (let alone our local communities) to stay here and do business but now we’re paying for tourists and visitors too? I’m sure the Ohioans heading up to see our prized forests and woodlands in full display with their autumn beauty can afford to throw a buck or two in for road repair considering that like 30% of their state’s economy is based off ticketing Michigan drivers. I have no idea whether that’s a true statistic or not. Something tells me the number is actually quite higher. All I have to say is that if you want us to stop speeding in your state at least make your state a little less boring to drive through. Think “hills.”

In fact the difference in road quality is instantly noticeable crossing the state line into Ohio as they use toll roads for road revenue. However most Michiganders wouldn’t know this as they’re still stuck in traffic waiting for the construction guy to flip his stop sign around. I’m also told that it reportedly does not snow in Ohio. A local meteorologist (also a unicorn) told me this.
Even the planning that occurs for these construction projects is plagued in complete ineptness. For example in my hometown the major freeway that connects us to I-75 has been under a widening project that began in early 2009 to relieve congestion for the 90,000 daily drivers that are lucky enough to commute in and out. The project was slated to take no longer than 18-months. Nearly three years later, the highway is already crumbling, the crews are nowhere near done, and the highway is still congested because the only thing that lies past the exits is more construction. In lay mans terms, you can’t get anywhere in the Motor City or the Metro area without taking an RV and a week’s supply of food.

I’m not an expert on construction or pre-construction planning (and from what I’ve seen neither is MDOT) but it seems to me that when one undergoes a major construction project (I.E. closing down a major freeway linking one city to another city) one should plan an alternative route for the flow of traffic. Modern linguists call this a “detour.” I know it’s quite a complex concept but I hope that MDOT one day truly embraces it because this whole concept of closing one road and re-routing drivers to an adjacent equally screwed up road is not going to cut it. As somebody who works roughly 7 miles away from home and on a normal sunny day can make it to their destination in ten to 15 minutes--I truly appreciate being able to travel somewhat directly to work without having to go 20 miles south to drive 13 miles back northwest.

The bottom line is that our roads are bad because our state government is inept. No matter how you want to slice the bread it always comes back to Lansing. If you want to believe that Michigan’s winters are just so uncharacteristically harsh compared to other states in this region and further north--go ahead believing so. But the next time you hear about how this winter is going to really wreck havoc on our roads; ask yourself how it is that Michigan, in the year 2011, continues to be the only state north of the Mason-Dixon line that crumbles from salt and the people in charge of our infrastructure get to still keep their jobs?

DISCLAIMER: I kid about Idaho as I‘ve been informed that the state is completely uninhabited except for potatoes. However if MDOT were to fall into a Michigan sinkhole and be transported there-- I guarantee the country would have a shortage of potatoes because nobody would be able to find a freaking detour!

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