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Saturday, November 2, 2013
AF Road Bond: Why Good Streets Matter

If they didn't matter much, they wouldn't be worth borrowing $20 million -- or writing eleven blog posts in twelve days.

This is the last in a series of eleven short pieces on American Fork's proposed bond issue for road repair. The first is here.

In all our talk of road bonds and rebuilding streets, one fundamental question has received relatively little attention: What's the point? Why do good streets matter? Why wouldn't we be better off, as one candidate has suggested, driving on crumbling streets indefinitely, or even gravel roads, if that's what it takes to avoid additional debt and higher taxes? What is the value of well-maintained streets?

I'm glad you asked.

Good streets are safer. Poor streets damage vehicles. Driving on them also distracts drivers. You're more likely to dodge the cyclist or pedestrian -- or the car in front of you -- successfully if you're not preoccupied with dodging potholes. If you're bouncing all over the cab of your pickup, you're less likely to see the soccer ball or the child who bounces into the street after it. Bicyclists and motorcyclists have particular difficulty navigating poor roads safely. And in the winter, snowplows can get good streets much cleaner, which reduces one of winter's greatest driving hazards, black ice.

Good streets promote economic growth. Businesses moving to a city don't just move the businesses; they move the jobs. They want to locate where current employees will be stable and content. They want to attract prospective employees. They may need to impress customers and investors who visit. Good streets help with all this, as do parks, arts and recreation programs, excellent schools, and other features. Poorly-maintained streets (or neighborhoods) are red flags, warning of other problems in the local government.

Good streets encourage stable neighborhoods. Property values are higher, crime rates are lower, and families are more settled. Poor streets frustrate residents and encourage them to move away. They invite criminals, who read signs of inattention or incompetence as an invitation to occupy and exploit a city or neighborhood.

Well-maintained streets cost less. They are far cheaper to maintain. Moreover, one factor in calculating residential and commercial insurance rates is emergency services' response times. Bad roads increase response times, potentially increasing insurance costs. Longer response times have other costs, too. Some medical conditions are far more serious and expensive if attended to slightly more slowly. In some cases taxpayers and other valued members of the community will die, if emergency personnel have to travel more slowly on bad streets.

A Final Thought

This is the end of our prolonged discussion here of the proposed bond issue.

Even if you've considered all eleven of these posts, you might find a compelling reason to vote against the bond issue. Maybe you think it's a bad time for more debt, though American Fork's debt load is relatively small, and despite the probability that borrowing in this case will actually save a lot of money in the long run. Maybe you oppose the $20 million bond issue, because you think it should have been $100 million. Maybe you have other reasons. Vote as you judge best. I'll be content (for whatever that's worth), as long as your reason is a legitimate one, based on facts and sound reasoning, and not the result of failing to pay attention, to do your homework, and to connect the dots.

For my part -- I say this as if you hadn't noticed -- I find the reasons to vote for the bond quite compelling, and the opponents' arguments against it quite inadequate.

Thanks for reading.

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