The 12" of rain we had in the last few days not only took a toll on our crops (and our spirits), but also our rural roads. Which led me to think about how the rural infrastructure was going to be maintained.
Here are some factors that seem to be all pushing the wrong way for rural roads in the US.
- Farmers: we're using equipment that loads rural roads way beyond anyone imagined when they were designed. Semis are bad enough, but loaded grain carts are way past specs for our roads. And since so many of us farm all over several counties, we don't have a vested interest other than being able to get to our field and get gone. It's showing.
- Oil prices: asphalt is derived from petroleum. My township road commissioner told me "cold patch" has tripled. So for starters, we won't begin to have enough resources.
- Weather: I think we got lulled by several fairly benign winters and especially, springs. This one, with multiple freeze-thaws really busted up blacktop in my area.
- Storage: as farmers store more on-farm and take less in the fall to the elevator, it doubles the trips that weight has to make over your farms access roads.
- More corn: with more or all corn in our rotation, 3-4 times the weight must be hauled over the same roads. Now add in increasing yields.
- Motor fuel tax shenanigans: not only do we have the ludicrous idea of a gas tax "holiday" floated at by presidential candidates (even while being shouted down by economists) but legislators at every level would love to redirect those funds to their own ends.
Meanwhile, urban transplants will be rethinking their country homes as the commute becomes an intolerable expense. The result is very few votes for directing tax money to roads only a handful benefit from.
I think it's time for farmers to take a page from Brazil and pay for our own roads. Heck, even make them tollways, in exchange for paying for the upkeep. This would be especially useful to price in the externalities BTO's escape by farming where they don't live. Imagine if they needed a township or private road sticker for every field they roar in and out of.
Meanwhile local residents could have the roads they pay for. This would place a premium on farming local, provide a strong case for renting local, and make many of us think twice about rolling out an overloaded tandem in a squishy spring blacktop.
Local Road Privatization - if it's good enough for the Skyway, it's good enough for 2100 E.