Monday, April 1, 2013

Note from Linville Gorge: We Can’t Even Maintain What Our Parents Built


Note from Linville Gorge: We Can’t Even Maintain What Our Parents Built

In the middle of the Great Depression, the United States Government decided to build the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Anyone who drives even a small portion of the 469 miles of roadway will quickly recognize the commitment a previous generation made to engineering and natural beauty.

Linville Falls (2013)

Today, my wife and I visited Linville Falls just off the parkway.  Being early April, the visitors’ center was closed and the rest room doors were shuttered with plywood and sealed with screws.   A roving park ranger suggested that if we needed to heed nature’s call, we should find a tree or bush commensurate with our modesty.  Instead, we decided to venture off the Parkway and found a lone motel open for business.

We went into the office and asked the motel owner if we could use her facilities.  She graciously agreed.  In our brief visit, we learned a bit about the difference between the Americans who had the daring in the midst of the Great Depression to construct the Parkway, and our generation of the great Recession that doesn’t even have the wherewithal to keep the bathrooms open.  She told us that the US government is going to keep many of the facilities along the roadway shuttered this summer, and as a consequence many of the motels and restaurants aren’t going to open at all; not a good thing for the local economy.

In this corner of the Appalachians, we have an example of the lack of vision and commitment that infects our nation.  In 1935, our total gross domestic product was $78.5 billion ($1.1 trillion in today’s dollars).  Nonetheless, out leaders committed the nation to build hundreds of miles of roadway though the mountains and employee tens of thousands of people to excavate, pave, and landscape the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Today, we are a far wealthier nation with a GDP of $15.8 trillion, and yet we don’t have the will to simply maintain what a previous generation was able to build.



Linville Falls (2013)

As you drive along the winding roads, you can see the legacy built by our parents and grandparents using tax dollars.  Our generation will be remembered for using a sledgehammer, called sequestration, to deface their great works.

2 comments:

  1. I agree, but I also think that our construction-oriented mentality is not always mindful of the life-cycle cost to maintain what we build. For example, every time that NCDOT widens a two-lane US or state highway into a four-lane highway -- something that they do often, and with local acclaim -- they increase the annual average cost of maintaining the wider highway. Does anyone provide for that increase in the project budget? Of course not. The problem is simply kicked down the road, if you'll pardon my pun. In a state like NC where growth has been rapid for decades, we should be particularly alert to the increasing baseline cost of adequately maintaining all the infrastructure we have built.

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  2. Chuck -- couldn't that agree more. All too often, road projects are political decisions that fail to account for maintenance and operating costs. However, the infrastructure in our national and state parks has been largely unchanged (except for some ridiculously large visitors centers) for decades: basically two lane roads, picnic areas and camp grounds. Hard to believe, we can't afford the maintenance.

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