On Roads: Toughen Up, Buttercup

By Beacon Staff

Sometimes it’s hard to pick something to rant about when the entire world seems like a ward at Warm Springs, but a little jaunt to the gun range the other day gave me a target: KM Ranch Road is the worst I’ve ever seen it, a washboarded, pulverized travesty like too many other roads around here.

And whose fault is that? Yours and mine, folks.

I mean, why is it, really, that the “share of funds” sign ending the new section of U.S. 93 north of Church says “Local: $ 0.0 million?”

Who is responsible for our roads? The Feds?

Sure, Flathead County’s road budget used to get pretty substantial support from the U.S. Forest Service, back when the Forest Service actually sold trees rather than burnt them. Good luck changing that.

As for other federal “help,” senior federal legislators such as Mike Mansfield were willing and able to squeeze the turnip. But Mansfield is long gone, and our delegation has nowhere near the geezerage enjoyed by lardmeisters Ted Stevens of Alaska, or Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

The Senate has great health care.

And “our” guys are getting squeezed everywhere, for pork in other parts of Montana. Let’s consider the St. Mary diversion rebuild, which will cost some $110 million to irrigate 150,000 acres of north-central Montana and supply domestic water to the Hi-Line.

Worthy? Well, losing that water would be a disaster, of course, but the diversion raises two issues: First, why didn’t anyone see this coming and establish a sinking trust years ago to pay for the inevitable?

Second, why should Ole and Inga in Minneapolis be expected to pay for it? How is the diversion any better than say, Ted’s Bridge to Nowhere or the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing? And don’t forget that Ole and Inga’s bridge fell down this summer.

Pavement up the draw? Pshaw!

Face it, folks, maybe it’s time to look at a county-wide fuel tax and vote on it.
I would suggest that such a tax be levied at every pump in the county to avoid free-rider syndrome. Tourist morons aside, almost all travel on our roads, especially the secondaries, is by local residents.

Allocating a fair share of road costs needs to be hashed out among the local governments, based on traffic counts and trip patterns that determine which traffic is “overhead” and which is local. The tax would pay for studies of which roads give the most bang for the buck, and whose bucks will be spent where, either in town, or out. It may very well take video-camera tracking to see precisely who is using such-and-such a road.

As for those who might find “impact fees” tempting, I don’t think it is proper to gouge developers through punitive fees while other users literally get a free ride. If you live on a dirt road and a subdivision comes in “upstream,” don’t expect to pay less than your fair share based on your trip count and frontage. And, if you subdivide, you’ll have to contribute accordingly. No more, no less.

Residents on roads in need of improvement are clearly the main beneficiaries of such improvement, therefore they should expect to ante up by way of enforceable special-improvement-district (SID) agreements (with limited hardship exemptions) themselves and expect to cost-share with the county road tax fund. No SID, no place in line, no whining.

Finally, I would hope that whatever system gets put in place isn’t subject to greasing the squeakiest wheel. If traffic counts do not justify pavement, toughen up, buttercup. It’s why you live here, right?