Editorial: Are there too many roads?

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Today, we present a Tribune editorial that initially appeared on Aug. 10, 2007, and we feel it remains relevant today:

Maybe America has too many roads. Maybe America could afford maintenance on its transportation infrastructure if there weren’t so much to maintain. We are an automobile culture, and maybe we’ve gone too far. States could look at whether they are trying to take care of too much infrastructure.

Most people can agree the interstate highway system is absolutely necessary to the American economy. We agree, too.

But perhaps it’s time to speculate whether America has too many secondary and tertiary routes. We are quick to build new roads and slow to shut down old ones.

Look at any map.

Take state Highway 105 south of Austin. You can tell most drivers would take U.S. Highway 218 instead. Traffic figures back up that observation. At the Iowa border, Highway 105 averages 220 cars per day, while Highway 218 has 2,800 per day.

State taxpayers are funding a largely unused road. That’s a waste of money.

There are plenty of low-traffic highways in Minnesota, too. Only 510 cars per day use state Highway 30 west of Mapleton. Only 185 cars per day use state Highway 246 east of Nerstrand.

Look up north and the numbers really dip. State Highway 1 in Beltrami County averages 50 cars a day. State Highway 65 south of Little Fork averages 90 cars a day and it has 40 cars a day by the time it gets north of Togo.

Can the Minnesota Department of Transportation hand responsibility for maintaining less-traveled roads over to the counties?

And shouldn’t the counties look at their systems more closely? It’s politically unpopular to close roads, but every rural county engineer knows which gravel roads are no longer needed and which paved roads could be turned over to gravel.

If state and counties across the country took a good hard look at the unnecessary roads and then took action, there would be less to maintain and more funding to go around. It wouldn’t solve all of America’s infrastructure problems, but it would at least help.