Opinion: Potholes and crumbling roads, brought to you by libertarian negligence

The L.A. City Council approved a budget that would, among many other things, allow the city to fill 350,000 potholes.

Which is nice and all, but it leaves me asking three questions:

If the council hadn’t been able to agree on a budget, would the city simply ignore potholes?

Without a budget in place, how would the city pay the many motorists who would sue for damage, such as broken axles, caused by poorly maintained streets? Actually, there’s an answer to that: They’d simply reject the lion’s share of the claims — only 10% are successful.


What would happen if the potholes never got fixed? The libertarian “the government that governs best is the government that doesn’t exist” hypothesis is my tongue-in-cheek suggestion in today’s cartoon.

Actually, I know the answer. I’ve seen the state of roads after decades of libertarianism/negligence — and my back has felt it — in Afghanistan before the U.S. began road reconstruction around 2005.

Some roads there disintegrate into gravel and ruts à la “Mad Max.” Others remain in surprisingly good condition after 40 years — and this is in Afghanistan, which has wicked temperature changes that are hard on roadways. Not to mention, they drive tanks on them. And sometimes blow up the tanks.

In many places, asphalt roads got ground up so thoroughly that there was no way to tell where the paved road had once been. You drove across the sun-packed earth, slamming into ruts and fissures, one after another, in the general direction of your destination, hoping you’d get there before getting blown up by a mine.

Your typical asphalt roadbed requires constant maintenance. Rigid concrete roads — the Soviets built many of these during their occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s — cost three times or more per mile than asphalt to build but require little maintenance. It’s the old dilemma: Do you spend a lot now so you don’t have to spend more later, or do you save a few bucks now and assume you’ll be flush in the future? With municipalities, the decision-makers are politicians, who are hard-wired for short-term thinking.

If that budget hadn’t gone through, concrete surfaces, like those on most L.A. freeways, would probably last a surprisingly long time, enough to remain drivable. Asphalt on local streets, not so much.

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