By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News
Alabama’s infrastructure, its roads and bridges, are sick as dogs. We all suffer it. Logically, obviously, things that delay employees getting to and from work and goods and services from getting to their consumers constitute lost time. And time is money.
When it comes to First Responders and Emergency Vehicles, bad roads literally can mean life or death.
The poorer the roads, the less chance for the state to attract business. The poorer the roads, the less safe. Bad roads are bad things. Nor are they cheap to mend.
The history of the road goes back 4,000 years, back to Egypt for the first paved road, to England for the first corderoy (log) road and to England of early 1800’s for macadam paving.
Alabama’s first state road was The Byler Road, 1823. As per the legislature, John Byler constructed a toll road that ran from Florence to Tuscaloosa: a man and horse, 12.5 cents; each head of cattle, one cent and for each head of hogs and sheep, half a cent.
I was astonished to see, right there in my fourth grade history book at Eldridge Jr. High, that the Byler Road ran right through my very Eldridge. I had never heard of it.
My mom ran the post office. I ran there after school to ask where it was.
She smiled a lovely smile and said, “If you walk outside and look to the right, it’s about 500 yards away.” Puzzled, I went. More puzzled, I returned.
“That’s the Boiler Road,” I said.
“That’s what it’s come to be called over the years, but it’s the Byler Road, sure as a pothole.” Poor John Byler. A year after completing the road he died, age 43, from a fever he contracted during construction.
His road reduced travel time from North Alabama to Tuscaloosa by half.
Alabama remained road poor and therefore even more economically strapped until a genius, Big Jim Folsom, was governor, looked west to Texas and copied its example.
In 1954, he built Farm to Market roads and my grandfather voted for him every time he could. I guess it takes genius to push through and build roads.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, 34th president, envisioned the interstate system early as 1919. He quoted the first president. George Washington (genius) said, “The credit, the saving and convenience of this country all require that our great roads should be straightened and established by law. To me it seems necessary.” He’d also seen up close and personal Hitler’s autobahn, literally “motor car path.” The general destroyed a goodly portion of it.
In 1956, President Eisenhower pushed through the Federal-Aid Highway Act and became known as the Father of the Interstate System. It has been useful.
It’s also used up. Stretches of our interstates are unsafe. County and city roads and bridges in some areas are dangerous. They are deteriorating at an increasingly rapid pace. The worse they get, the more expensive they are to fix.
Something has to be done.
Here’s the thing about a gas tax. The people who use the most gas, as day follows night, most use the roads. If anyone can think of a fairer thing, let me know.
The king of roadways, historically speaking, was The Kahn. Genghis Khan. Genius Khan. One of the great geniuses, and ruthless as a he was intelligent.
He united the Mongols in 1205 and over the next 20 years took over more contiguous territory than any military ruler in history, more than twice as much.
He did it through two simple inventions. He improved the stirrup from two leather slings to wood or metal on which the rider could stand, and then he taught them to stand as they rode.
Standing on the short, sturdy Mongolian ponies was much easier on the rider and on the horse. Their standing bowmen were deadly.
The army moved at a constant trot-gallop. Before his death in 1227, he ruled 20 million people over 12 million square miles…an area of land about the size of Africa. He was about 70 when he died from internal injuries suffered from falling off his horse. Couldn’t be more fitting.
Mongols of course were nomads. They kept their immense herds of horses and cattle on the move, grazing out an area then conquering the next.
The Mongol creed and war cry: Yol Bolsun. May there be a road. Roads exactly were their way of life.
Ours, too. Efficiency is needed to get our people from here to there better and to deliver the new TV before my soap goes into re-runs.
Of personal evidence, this: When I was six, a trip from Eldridge to Jasper on U.S. 78 took nearly two hours. It’s 53 miles. Now it’s 45 minutes, if one dawdles.
U.S. 78 was the two-lane truck route from Birmingham to Memphis. The trucks roared. I haven’t looked to learn how traffic deaths have reduced with improvement to the roads. It’ll be considerable.
It’s thought Alabama needs $300 million annually to restore and maintain its roads and bridges, maybe even improve them.
It has been nearly 25 years since we passed a gas tax. I’m for taxes the way CNN is for honesty and truth, but I’m for this one. I cannot think of a legitimate reason to oppose it.
My Fam and I returned recently for a trip to Puerto Rico. I was amazed to see that price for gas there appeared to be the same as here, about $3. Amazing.
That is for a litre. Not a gallon. The average price worldwide for a gallon of gas is $6.43.
I’m not a genius like George Washington or Dwight Eisenhower or The Khan or even John Byler. Occasionally, though, reality cuts through my morning fog.
The only way Alabama can get better, safer roads and bridges, pretty much throughout, is by passing a gas tax.
(Next week: Politics.)
Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at www.ALDailyNews.com. Email Skip HERE.