Pavement Failure Ahead
Driving on I-94 recently in the searing heat, it occurred to me that I hadn't yet heard of any roads buckling during this long hot spell. Boom: not five minutes later traffic slowed to a halt. The digital sign overhead warned, “Pavement Failure Ahead.”
Minnesota's extreme weather swings are brutal to our roadways and require expensive maintenance. MNDOT is pouring $1.1 billion into road construction this year, but that's only enough to maintain the status quo, not improve the overall roadway conditions. And the current conditions aren't great: over 750 miles of trunk highway alone are considered in poor condition. A report last year from Smart Growth America estimates that Minnesota needs to spend an additional $200 million annually to bring all of our roads up to good condition and keep them there.
As with most government spending, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials calculates that every dollar spent to keep a road in good condition prevents $6-14 of work if the road deteriorates. Costs to individual car owners are also higher when they are driving on rutted roads that can damage tires and suspension systems (and lower fuel economy). Finding $200 million won't be easy, but finding more money later to catch up on deferred maintenance would be even tougher. In addition, making improvements before they become emergencies allows us time to plan smart projects that minimize inconvenience and maximize outcomes.
Of course, reducing the number of cars on the road can reduce wear and tear somewhat. Our weather, though, is going to be rough on our roads whether or not we're driving on them.