Democrats and Republicans agree!

This morning I learned two things.

CBS Sunday Morning (May 27) reported that our interstate highways are badly in need of repair. FDR and Ike created an infrastructure that provides enormous economic benefits. Unfortunately for both businesses and customers, it has been poorly maintained since the early 1990s, the last time the federal gas tax was increased.

Second, an Asheville Citizen-Times (AC-T, May 27, p. A1) article described the city council’s process for selling the land across from the U.S. Cellular Center and St. Lawrence Basilica — an historic landmark and city treasure.  A hotel developer wants to purchase the land and so does the Diocese of Charlotte.  The first wants to build a 3-story hotel and public plaza.  The second wants to better preserve the view of the Basilica with a plaza and smaller building. The article described the complexity of the decision — explaining a timeline and a 2008 agreement with the hotel developer.

We  know our interstate system provides enormous economic benefit. And we know policy decisions are based on judgments about complex, inter-related possibilities. No matter what formulas are used to project costs and benefits, all decisions about maintaining highways and selling city property are based on judgments about what is best for today and tomorrow.

Reflections on roads

Our interstate highways are an engine of economic prosperity.  Huge trucks easily and swiftly transport goods, and citizens routinely travel 20-30 miles to purchase goods and services.  We have enjoyed this benefit for the last 50 years, so we take it for granted.

I took it for granted, too, until I traveled to Central and South America. Dilapidated roads contribute to the poverty of citizens in undeveloped countries. They strangle economic prosperity at every turn: (1) high costs for transporting raw materials, (2) high costs for transporting finished products, (3) and high costs and inconvenience for people to travel to the market.

When I traveled to Japan, however, I saw the opposite.  We traveled on low-cost, comfortable, high speed trains.

Poor roads are both a result and a cause of a weak economy. They are one reason why so many Central and South American people have lived so long in so much poverty. Could that be us, some day? If our interstate is not properly maintained, we will find out.  Or should we invest in high speed rail, like Japan?  These are the judgments we ask elected officials to make about complex, inter-related situations and possibilities.

Downtown Asheville development

A local example of this complexity and inter-relatedness is the downtown Asheville land sale. What should the Council decide?

Most Asheville residents will never spend a night in the developer’s hotel, but almost all would experience the plaza’s enhanced view of the Basilica.  Some have sent letters to the editor about the beauty of the Basilica and its irreplaceable aesthetic benefits. They want the Council to back out of its 2008 agreement and accept the Diocese’s recent, larger bid.  The benefits would be immediate — in an enhanced view of the Basilica and in a plaza beautifying downtown.

In the long-term, however, city residents might benefit more from the occupancy tax generated by the hotel. That revenue source might make other aesthetic or economic improvements possible. The exact same point was made in a letter to the editor by Michael Wayne McWeeny (AC-T, May 31, p. A6).

The Council has to weigh all of this, including the effects of backing out of the deal with the hotel developer.  Would that affect whether or not businesses work with the Council in the future?

We all agree!

Watching CBS Sunday Morning and reading the Sunday AC-T reminded  me of what we all know. Our interstate highways are an engine of economic prosperity. Governing decisions are always a matter of judgment about complex, inter-related possibilities.



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