Many hopes for better roads and bridges were dashed when the NH Senate voted down dedicated funds from a proposed gas tax increase and the NH House voted down expanded gambling that also would have included some dedicated funding to maintain and improve our state’s infrastructure. One person directly affected by this shares her point of view.
NH is ‘cutting off its nose to spite it’s face.’ The cost of infrastructure materials has been skyrocketing since our last increase of the gas tax in 1991. The price of gas back then was just over $1.00/gallon. It stands to reason that asphalt, also a product of petroleum, has at least tripled. Certainly, the cost of bridge materials has also increased; as have the costs of equipment, trucks, salt and sand. Further, it is costly to address environmental concerns and the need to properly regulate all materials in order to preserve our waterways and drinking water.
NHDOT has taken great care to reduce energy consumption by installing wood boilers to provide heat to many sheds across the state. This was initiated through a legislative directive to reduce costs. Even though the wood that is burned comes from fallen trees around the highways there are many costs that are not considered. The cost of transporting the fuel; cutting and splitting the wood; additional labor costs; and shifting the workforce from performing their mission driven duties – maintaining the roads – causes me to wonder if it is worth it in the long run.
As a foreman, I am watching my ‘beat’ lack the proper maintenance. Four years have gone by without some of my right-of-ways getting mowed – another incidence of ‘pound wise, penny foolish. ‘After four years, trees start to grow where grass once did. Those trees obviously get bigger and soon a mower will no longer cut them down. Additionally, trees create shade, prompting the use of more salt during winter storms and upping the cost of winter upkeep (salt works best when the road temp is above 20 degrees. Sun warms the pavement dramatically). Now consider the expense of cutting down the trees, one by one, by hand. Compare that price tag with the cost of a quick zip of a mower. We’re saving money how?
The public tells me every day while we’re paving how unhappy they are with the outcome of our product on secondary roads. You see, we shim roads with a grader instead of paying a contractor far more for an ‘overlay’ using a paver. DOT does not possess a paver because of the expense. When we shim a road we use a state-owned grader (usually used for grading dirt roads and sometimes snow removal) and our own dump trucks filled with asphalt made by for-profit companies. The grader’s tires bounce up and down the failing road’s potholes and dips, reducing the desired outcome of any department employee. Driver’s pull up to us and state it is not smooth and is a waste of money but DOT knows a layer of asphalt over potholes and cracks are a temporary fix to hold the road together. It also saves our plow trucks drastic injury when plowing them in the winter…another costly item.
Since this year’s budget has come and gone, municipal aid (helping cities and towns fund their bridge and road repairs) will further suffer. Make no mistake, DOT will shut down any bridge it finds defective but making costly repairs year after year instead of putting in a new bridge now, would cost taxpayers many millions more considering how many red-listed bridges (140 last year) there are throughout the state of NH.
But for some reason, and once again, our duly elected legislators decided that since DOT does such a great job ‘saving’ money they don’t need any more. They don’t see the loss of revenue in tourism and economy even when our bridges to Maine and Vermont are closed.
This gas-tax payer disagrees with them and is considering sending the state house my front-end alignment, tire balance, and ball-joint repair bills…much more expensive than silly few-pennies gas tax, which of course is a user fee.
Will NHDOT employees give up? Hell no. Our own family and friends travel these roads. We want them to come home safe and will continue to “do the best with what we’ve got.”