A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal described paved roads as "historical emblems of American achievement." But in era of strained budgets and fiscal conservatism, American achievements are a little tougher to come by.
Take Texas, for example (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
The sharp increase in heavy traffic from a historic oil boom has damaged many farm-to-market roads in South and East Texas. The damage related to energy development has become so extensive that state and local authorities lack the funding to make all the repairs. Last month, the Texas Department of Transportation announced plans to convert more than 80 miles of paved roads to gravel. The conversions are expected to start Monday, TxDOT officials said. But the plan has been met with criticism from lawmakers and some of the farmers and ranchers who live near those roads."Since paving roads is too expensive and there is not enough funding to repave them all, our only other option to make them safer is to turn them into gravel roads," TxDOT spokesman David Glessner said.
The state legislature briefly considered tax increases on energy companies -- the companies that have benefited greatly from the energy boom, and which are chiefly responsible for pushing the roads quite literally past the breaking point -- but as you might have guessed, those proposals faced stiff political opposition and never gained traction in Austin.
Darlene Meyer, a 77-year-old rancher whose property sits along a state road marked for conversion to gravel, told the Texas Tribune, "Texas used to have the best roads.... I just can't believe the Department of Transportation is going back to the dark ages."
The larger context of this is important.
On the one hand, Gov. Rick Perry (R) believes Texas' economy is amazing, and he's managed to strike the perfect balance between meeting the public's needs and keeping the private sector happy. Every other state, the governor assures us, should be following Texas' lead -- after all, thanks to the energy sector, the Lone Star State has plenty of money.
On the other hand, thanks to wear and tear from the oil companies, which have made themselves remarkably rich from Texas' resources, Texas can no longer afford to pave many of its roads, and will instead transition from pavement to gravel.
The state must have known this was likely to happen, and had time to prepare for infrastructure needs, but ended up here anyway.