I couldn’t help but comment on a story we aired on WAOW-TV yesterday about the “orange barrel season” or road construction season. Some officials in the story were quoted as saying ‘we will be better off in the end/future’ – that the construction is necessary and traffic will be better off in the future.
I am here to say that is not true.
It is certainly not true for the amount of construction that occurs every year. In some instances, new roads and new designs can help with the flow of traffic – at least temporarily – but in the end the orange barrels just multiply like rabbits. Some people might live under the illusion that road construction today means less tomorrow, but that would fly in the face of math and logic. I can tell you with much certantity that I have witnessed more road construction every year of my life. It never decreases. It ALWAYS increases.
The reasons are simple. The population grows. Cities and suburbs grow. Roads become bigger and more numerous. They all wear out at a certain rate. More roads and more traffic means more construction every year. It is fait acompli. I detailed the positive feedback loop of more roads and suburban sprawl in The Concrete Life (also part 2 and part 3). Our current society (in the U.S.) is organized around the automobile. Unless someone invents an indestructible material with which to build roads and/or we move to more mass transit and/or the population begins to decline, it will be ever increasing construction every year into the future. The most disturbing trend I have seen in recent years is that more and more remote roads in northern Wisconsin with tiny volumes of traffic are being paved over. What were once easy and cheap maintenance gravel roads are becoming huge future tax liabilities. Paved roads require more expensive maintenance – and more orange barrels.
Is there any hope for the future? Yes. We may have recently seen “Peak Car” and “Peak Travel” here in the U.S. Younger generations are not buying cars or populating suburbs to the extent of earlier generations (also detailed here). Retiring baby boomers are moving closer together and closer to the services they need in urban areas to make retirement more enjoyable. These trends point to a distant future where the curse of the orange barrels might recede.
Lastly I want to make sure that I am not necessarily faulting the “officials” for trying to comfort people during the frustrating construction season. They know people will be angry with travel delays once Summer rolls around. They have to try and put a positive spin on things. Everyone who is complaining should look in the mirror if they want someone to blame. As long as citizens – in aggregate – choose to live in far flung suburbs and exurbs, choose to commute through snarled traffic an hour a day, choose to shop at strip malls situated on formerly productive farmland, then it will be road construction for as far as the eye can see, every year, forever.
Have a fine Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.