Opinion: Road construction is a necessary evil

Let me first preface this opinion piece by saying this: I do not drive. I’ve never learned how to and I don’t know if I ever will. It’s just a part of who I am that is an inconvenience to me at times and to those who drive me places I’m sure even more so. But knowing this information should make you realize how bad this situation really is.

With that out of the way, I will say this: road construction in Topeka is getting out of hand. Not only is it happening more often, but it is taking longer and longer to finish these projects. The intersection of 21st and Gage has seen construction about five times in the last six years, including another major project starting up soon. Another area that effects Washburn students is the construction at 29th and Burlingame, which began right before the end of the previous spring semester and continues as I type this.

What in the world is happening in this city? It seems like the answer is that infrastructure in this nation is breaking down. According to the Congressional Budget Office, while the federal government has spent about the same on infrastructure costs in the past few decades, around $100 billion, state and local government spending on infrastructure has skyrocketed, spending around $150 billion in the 1970s to spending close to $350 billion now. The percentage that the federal government spends has changed dramatically as well. In 1977 it peaked at 38 percent of the total amount spent while the number dipped all the way down to 25 percent now.

By shifting the funding from the federal government to the state and local government, this has forced those local governments, Topeka included, to find ways to make infrastructure like roads last longer.

Topeka began a process called micro-surfacing to extend the life of many streets for a few years. This quick and seemingly cheap process is preventative and temporary and will give many streets in the area about five more years of life before needing major construction. But why not spend a little more money to permanently fix these streets and give them 15, 20 or even 30 years of life?

Another area of concern with many Topekans is that these construction projects seem futile considering how many issues we have with other infrastructure systems, namely the water main system in the city. Just yesterday, as I was going to lunch with people I work with at my internship, one of my co-workers made a comment about how she knew of several cases where a street would have major construction to fix an issue on the road, only to have it be closed and torn up a few weeks later because a water main broke under the surface. According to a report by KSNT, between July 8 and July 10 of last year, there were 22 water main breaks reported in Topeka. Twenty-two breaks in the span of 72 hours!

There is a simple solution to all of this, but it’s not one that will come cheap or in a short amount of time. We as citizens will need to be willing to pay more in taxes. Local taxes come and go as the political climate and needs of the citizens change. Even in the upcoming election, there will be a question on the ballot about continuing a current sales tax for the improvement of streets for another 10 years.

A poll conducted this past summer showed that just over half of Topekans would be willing to pay more in taxes to see an improvement in our streets. This is a great indication that the average citizen is willing to take ownership in their city and willing to see the improvement that its streets so desperately need.