In search of smoother roads ahead for Valley motorists


Mahoning Valley drivers had better fasten their safety belts tightly as Mother Nature promises more rough-and-tumble rides ahead.

Yes, with temperatures predicted to continue seesawing from subfreezing levels one day to downright balmy conditions the next, our roadways will continue to be fertile breeding grounds for rapid deterioration and pothole infestation.

Or in the blunt words of Mahoning County Engineer Patrick Ginnetti, “These roads are falling apart!”

Ginnetti made that and other comments in today’s Page A1 story by Justin Wier on the deepening perils of potholes in our region.

In it, the engineer reinforces a longstanding lament that it’s becoming increasingly difficult and frustrating for county road crews to keep up with the growing challenge to fix and fill the ever-expanding roadway craters.

Each year, the law of diminishing returns strikes his department and thousands like it throughout our region, state and nation a little bit harder.

Dwindling road maintenance budgets coupled with static or declining levels of support from state and federal sources translates into fewer roads getting properly repaired for the long term.

That struggle worsens each year as costs of road-repair materials continues to increase by leaps and bounds .

Those realities demonstrate the need for an infusion of funding into communities for proper maintenance of our aging and increasingly deteriorating surface transportaiton infrastructure. They also serve as a clarion call for local leaders to continue to seek out innovative ways to do more with fewer resources.

On the state level, some institutions – the Ohio Municipal League and the County Engineers Association of Ohio – have encouraged state leaders to at least consider a modest increase in the state’s gasoline tax.

That suggestion deserves thoughtful consideration. After all, it’s been about 15 years since the state gas tax was last increased, and at a total of 46 cents per gallon, Ohio’s total fuel tax is significantly lower than surrounding states. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana all have total gas taxes at 60 cents and above, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Considering greater fuel economy in today’s vehicles and reduced driving by many of us, returns on the state’s static gas tax have done nothing but dwindle over time.

AWAITING TRUMP INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN

On the federal level, we continue to wait for the formal rollout of President Donald J. Trump’s much vaunted $1 billion infrastructure plan, parts of which have been leaked this week by some media outlets.

In it, we hope he pledges significant assistance to state and local communities for road improvements. We also hope he and Republicans in Congress are open to compromises in funding formulas and outlays. If ever there was an issue that should be nonpartisan, the infrastructure is it. After all, well-maintained roads will benefit Democrat, Republican, Independent and fringe-party motorists alike.

Though bolstered help from state and federal sources would be welcome, most local road engineers and community leaders wisely aren’t holding their breath for relief from Columbus or Washington.

Instead, to their credit, some in our Valley and region have found ways to do more with less. In Mahoning County, nonviolent jail inmates have been used to assist in routine patchwork, thus saving the strained coffers the costs of county employee crews. Other communities, such as Boardman, Canfield and Austintown collectively, have formed partnerships for road cleaning and supply purchases that use economies of scale to appreciably whittle down the costs of road-repair resources.

Motorists can do their part as well by driving slowly and safely to minimize damage to their own vehicles and to lessen the chances of any injury-inducing accidents. They can also promptly report potholes to the appropriate authorties (state, county or local agencies depending on who owns the raodway). In Ohio, drivers also can seek reimbursement for the costs of repairs caused by mangled state roads by contacting the Ohio Court of Claims.

But for meaningful and lasting relief, we join others in encouraging state and federal leaders to prioritize infrastructure improvements that include robust funding to fix our crumbling roadways. Doing so will pave the way for smoother rides for the long haul for all of us.

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