“I never dreamed that by the end of my career we would be talking about having to go back to gravel,” a former highway department head tells Harper's Magazine, which takes a deep look at America's "countless failed roads." One nonprofit estimates that more than half of the major rural roads in the US are between "fair" and "poor" condition. With potholes bad enough to fatally injure horses and tip school buses sideways, America's rural roads look like they've been "carpet-bombed." "I’ve been road-tripping around the country, shunning interstates, since the Seventies, and I’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of our secondary roads—especially over the past ten years," author Dale Maharidge writes in the article.
The reasons are numerous: from the end of the post-WWII boom, to the increasing expense of asphalt, to Americans being "in an anti-tax mood these days." US drivers pay about $450 toward roads every year; Europeans can pay more than three times that. But raising taxes to pay for infrastructure has been a nonstarter. One increasingly popular solution: "Depave" asphalt roads back to gravel or dirt, which can make for a better driving experience when compared to crumbling pavement and cost up to $35,000 less per mile to maintain. But there are downsides to depaving, including health concerns and vehicle wear and tear. "We as a nation are on a journey down regression road," Maharidge writes. "If the roads are failing, it means government is failing." Read the full story, in which depaving is called "another example of the death of the commonweal in favor of privatization," here. (Read more Longform stories.)