John Norquist's Letter to Editor (Chicago Tribune) on Highway Maintenance

In "Bad transportation policy, at a price," Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman appropriately bemoans the federal funding of highway expansion over maintenance.

Federal funding favors spectacular expansion projects with attendant ribbon cuttings over routine inspection and maintenance that can help avoid tragedies like the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

He notes the 6,736 "special" projects inserted in the 2005 transportation bill by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush.

Given this history, it's easy to conclude that if we only removed the politicians from the equation, the right work -- repair work -- would get done.

Actually the problem is worse than just political meddling.

For a lot of reasons, including pressure from the construction lobby, official road design criteria focus on functional deficiencies instead of more-dangerous structural deficiencies.

Under this bias, wider ramps on the bridge that collapsed attracted funding over the repair of the existing bridge.

Chapman joins Bush in opposing chairman of the House Transportation Committee Jim Oberstar's (D-Minn.) proposal for a 5-cent boost in the gas tax.

He's probably right that more federal spending will not fix our bridges under the current system, although I'm sure Bush is likely to support the spending as long as it's borrowed instead of taxed.

What Oberstar does get right is that his proposal is aimed at funding structural deficiency and not functional deficiency. Oberstar, unlike his predecessor, Don Young (R-Alaska) of "Bridge to Nowhere" fame, is actually trying to fund the repair of dangerous bridges.

For that, Oberstar deserves praise.

John Norquist, President and CEO, Congress for the New Urbanism

Chicago

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