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Roads Are Freedom

Opinion Editorial
February 21, 2001

By Jon Caldara

Mobility is power.  In fact, mobility is empowerment.  Show me a man who can travel only as far as his legs will take him and I will show you a man in despair.  But, today there is a war against mobility and its politically incorrect components: cars, roads, and drivers.  These tools of empowerment are routinely vilified, when in fact they should be celebrated.

Yes I am serious.

Take my personal story.  In college I scraped together $500, enough to purchase a very used 1980 Datsun 210.  And what a hot car it was.  Faded red paint.  Crack windshield.  Four gutless pistons that could move you from 0 to 60 in under twenty minutes.  When it rained the passenger side floor would fill with water.  Im not joking.   I poked a hole in the floor to let it drain.  Yep, this car was a real chick-magnet.

But it wasnt as much a car as an equality machine, an engine of empowerment that granted me access into the mainstream.  Because of that $500 car and roads to drive it on, I was able to hold down a job to get me through college.  And after college I started my own business.  I got to my customers thanks to those roads and my $500 car.

I recall pulling up next to a brand new Lexus and remarking to my girlfriend, as she tried to keep her shoes dry on the passengers side, See that rich guy over there?  There is no place he can go that I cant.  Every road that is open to him is now open to me in my $500 Datsun, any time I want, day or night.  I have all his freedom and power for $50,000 less!  That guy is a sucker!

Those denied mobility are second-class citizens.  They are at the mercy of transit, the transportation welfare system.  You see them everyday waiting on the side of the road for the government to pick them up in government vehicles, on the governments schedule and deliver them to, well you get the idea.  Yes, many who ride transit choose to leave their car behind, but, next time you fly by a bus stop look at the people who sit and wait and watch opportunity race past them at 50 miles per hour.

Today its not just the poor who are without mobility.  What good is your car if roads are so jammed you cant move.  Some say we have a growth crisis.  We dont.  We have a transportation crisis.  In the last quarter of a century Colorado has barely increased road capacity as population and demand for mobility has soared.

The parking lots we call freeways are the result.

Can you name one other industry in Colorado that hasnt kept up with demand?  What would your reaction be if our hospitals were as overrun as our roads?  What if there was a shortage of food like there is a shortage of roads?  Well, our relatively free marketplace doesnt allow that.  But unfortunately, there is no legal marketplace for mobility.  The government owns the roads and the government owns the transit and they dont allow anyone else to compete with them.  No wonder were screwed.

We dont let government ration our food, our clothes or our medicine.  Why do we let them ration our mobility?  Because, we sat back and allowed road haters to dictate the terms of the mobility debate.  Instead of roads being seen as the great equalizer of American society, we have allowed them to be labeled as a plague paving over paradise.

Road haters have been so successful that as we sit in Soviet style ration lines for mobility, they have us second-guessing whether more roads are even necessary.  Imagine the infected patient during a medicine shortage questioning if he needs the penicillin.

Road builders share the blame for this public relations disaster.  Since their one-and-only customer is the government they have been careful not to offend.  As special interest groups force them to jump through bureaucratic hoops of fire in order provide us with mobility, road builders have employed the politics of appeasement.

Builders almost apologize for their work.  And look where its gotten them.  As a percentage of the state budget, roads are at a near all time low.  Although transit only carries 2% of all commutes, over the next 20 years transit projects will suck up 55% of all the transportation dollars.

Road builders do an amazing thing.  They pulverize rock and turn it into opportunity and a chance to live the American dream.  We must suppress this elitist urge to limit mobility, because roads are freedom.  Roads are equality.

These remarks were delivered Wednesday, February 21, 2001 at the annual awards dinner of the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association.