Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Bad Patch on the Road to Recovery

Economies are like the weather – there's only a certain amount of air and water, it's how it cycles through and around that brings life. The circulation of the money brings life to the economy. Just try Wheresgeorge.com to see individual bills cycling around the system. However, like the weather, concentrations of it can be destructive rather than constructive. Too much heat and we have a drought, too much rain, a flood; and too much wind, well either a hurricane or a tornado - It happens (and has been the cause of at least twice as many deaths over the last 15 years, than terrorism).

However, the economy has to start churning money around the system, and not be becalmed. That is where the stimulus is useful. The transfer of money is either through spending, through grants/loans or through gifts (and of course, taxation).

The problem is that the money, in order to have maximum effect, has to be spent effectively. In some cases it's not. I give this one example of how the stimulus money is being spent. For months now, one of the major state highways around my neighborhood has been getting resurfaced, as part of the Recovery Act. They're attempting to resurface a 13 mile stretch of Georgia State Highway 83 (Ga83) from the Monticello, Georgia town square (shown prominently in My Cousin Vinny) north to the county line. For this job, Georgia Asphalt Inc. is being paid $1.8Million.

Fair Do you might say, except even at a slow pace of half a mile a week, it should take no longer than 26 weeks - 6 months. instead, it's taking TEN months. Why?

It all becomes clear when you watch just HOW they're working. I had to travel into Monticello that day, and encountered these roadworks from the other direction, after being through them, and seeing how badly set up it was, I just had to record my return trip. The following video was taken at around noon, on Monday Feb 8th 2010.

Look especially at the guys just standing around, especially the one that gives me such a hard stare at around the 2:30 mark. It's also a remarkably uncomplicated set of roadworks, hardly needing a large 'pilot' or 'follow me' car. In fact, at the end, you'll notice the driver in front believes there must be some 'trick' to warrant a sheepdog, and goes to follow the pilot when it goes for a turnaround.

If you want to see what it looks like on a map, here's the span of the video mapped out

The path traveled during the video (click to enlarge)

During the entire 1.7-1.8 mile section restricted to a single lane, the majority was under a restriction needlessly. They're not even working on the lanes themselves, but on the area where the road gains a center turning lane - the Streetview images can show things better. There's also something else it shows. The state DOT website lists the project, and gives the following description:
This project is a maintenance construction project in Jasper County. This project is the milling and resurfacing of SR 83. This section of SR 83 needs resurfacing because the existing pavement is deteriorating. SR 83 was last resurfaced in 1985.
I've travelled that road a fair amount. It didn't feel very 'deteriorating' to me. Nor does it look like a suspension test to the google streetview car (it looks to have been recorded in early 2009). There ARE areas where it has deteriorated, yes, such as this one, and this one

The only problem is, the new resurfacing hasn't changed that, as it's not touched the bridges, so far. Resurfacing stops dead at the start of the bridge, and thats where the problems are.

$1,864,482 poorly spent to save 6.4 jobs, and could be better use elsewhere. This concentration of money might help the economy in giving some people some wages, much local, as the company is based just outside Jasper County. Yet at the same time, this massive delay in completing the work, and its poor timing and management is a detriment. The newly laid roads are smooth, yes, but when it rains it has a better chance of holding surface water, leading to a greater chance of aquaplaning. It also makes the roads reflective at dark, and with no cats eyes installed (that is the situation they're designed for) it makes it hard to drive at night in the rain.

Even worse, if it snows and/or is icy. A situation that, just 4 days after that video was shot (Feb 12), cost someone their life. It snowed a lot that day (which people in Georgia are not used to) and that road was very slick. An SUV crashed head-on into a large tow-truck as it lost control on a bend. I know how slippy it was, as I passed the accident scene moments after it happened, not realising it was an accident. I saw a tow truck, and a car off the road, and assumed (with what little I wasn't using to keep control of the car) that one was pulling the other out. The Monticello Newspaper's coverage says it all (2nd item, 'snowy night'). We can only hope that the state patrol remembers to include the 'smooth' road as a factor in the crash.

Just how idiotic can you be, to make nice smooth roads, in winter?

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