We were walking in my Chicago neighborhood to get ice cream when my daughter noticed an orange sign touting the upcoming roadwork. I was surprised that she was interested in the construction activity. Normally, she drags me away.
But now that she's become active in politics, construction has her interest. After reading the sign, she said, “Isn't it great we're putting people back to work?”
I looked at her with a shrug and said, “Sure.”
“You don't seem happy about this,” she added. “What's wrong?”
I first gave her three minor reasons for my disappointment. First, the asphalt overlay was just going to smooth over the problems that caused the pavement to fail. Second, the city engineer probably never even considered a concrete whitetopping as an alternative. Most importantly, none of my readers have benefitted from this project.
She mumbled I have a one-track mind. “You always think the world revolves around concrete,” she said. And then I asked who was paying for her ice cream. Being the astute and starving student, she quickly saw my point.
But I failed to point out an even more important reason why everyone should be disappointed in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Our government is spending money to do patchwork instead of real construction. Sadly, most people don't care. Everyone seems happy that there is work happening.
Where are our leaders? Ten years from now, what significant projects will we point to as legacies of this act? In the suburb of Park Ridge near where I live, I'm sure it will be a load of recycled asphalt pavement as it is milled from the raveled surface of Touhy Avenue.
Others think similarly. At a recent hearing, U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Republican leader, had similar comments. “GAO (Government Accountability Office) has found that nearly half of the DOT highway funds are being directed to repaving projects,” said Mica. “Meanwhile, the stimulus is leaving behind many of the nation's deteriorating bridges and other major transportation projects. These are the kinds of projects that can employ workers over a number of years. But these are being passed over in favor of small projects that provide more short-term jobs.”
Mica claims that many states are funding a large percentage of resurfacing projects and pavement improvements, in part, because these minor projects do not have to navigate the lengthy approval process. “We should be expediting other major projects across the country to create good, long-term jobs and provide significant improvements to our infrastructure,” he said.
So how can you help transform the stimulus package from short-term success into a legacy? I propose three ways.
First, get involved in promoting whitetopping, pervious concrete, and other concrete pavement systems in your market. Our industry can provide more durable and environmentally friendly roads.
Second, support the performance-based specifications (P2P) effort. When DOTs and public works officials adopt specifications that encourage performance rather than prescriptive procedures, concrete's innate qualities can be demonstrated and society is better served.
And third, contact your local government officials and urge them to put forward only important capital projects that deserve our hard-earned tax dollars and will truly change our lives.
I want to take my future grandchildren for ice cream. As they enjoy their chocolate-dipped cones, I would like to tell them of the great stories I wrote about legendary projects my readers worked on as we rebuilt the country.
Editor in Chief