The great Great Miami Boulevard boondoggle
by Mark Luedtke
The I-75 ramp to Salem Boulevard will be shut down for five years, so the city built an alternate route for motorists traveling south toward downtown Dayton to access Salem Boulevard. They replaced the existing Great Miami Boulevard between Main and Grand, then extended it to Riverview. They also replaced Grand between Great Miami and Forest, then extended it to the I-75 ramp. The total amount of roadway built was about a mile. Instead of doing this project quickly, inexpensively and with high quality, the city dragged it out for 17 months, costing taxpayers $3.6 million. And this is just one of dozens of road projects going on in Dayton that are squandering our wealth.
I live nearby, so I watched this project every day. Almost nobody ever worked on it. It was amazing. It was like a ghost project. Weeks would go by without workers showing up. When they did show up, few showed up. They never worked weekends. They never worked evenings. And they worked very few days. The same is true for every road construction project in Dayton. The vast majority of the time I drive past a project, nobody is working on it. It’s like there’s one road crew, and they change location every day.
And apparently there’s some sort of road construction season in Dayton. Contractors don’t work on roads in the winter no matter how nice it is outside. If you remember last winter was unseasonably warm. We had only two light freezes. Despite the opportunity to work during the winter, no workers showed up.
You might think this is OK because if nobody’s working, they’re not getting paid. But that’s only part of the story. While nobody is working, capital equipment sits idle. On the Great Miami Boulevard project, a number of pieces of heavy machinery would sit idle for weeks at a time. The equipment was idle far more often than used. If you drive around Dayton, you’ll see heavy equipment sitting idle at road construction jobs all over the city.
Capital equipment costs money whether it’s being used or idle. You rarely see heavy equipment sitting idle at private sector projects because the person funding the project doesn’t want his wealth squandered. If the project manager of a privately funded project allowed equipment to sit idle, he’d be fired or the investors would go bankrupt. The marketplace imposes a harsh penalty on the squandering of resources. But because the government funds itself through theft, it has no incentive to keep capital equipment in operation. It won’t go bankrupt because no matter how much wealth it squanders, it can always steal more to fund projects.
Then there’s the opportunity cost. Government’s idle equipment is equipment that was removed from the productive private sector where it would have been used to improve the lives of the people, creating wealth and boosting our economy. Instead, government squanders it in the parasitic political economy, depressing our economy and making us all poorer.
And it’s not just the capital equipment. The same is true for the steel, concrete and other resources that get used then left idle for months or years at a time. But politicians want these jobs to take a long time so they can use them as advertisements, claiming they’ve put our tax dollars to work and created jobs. They’re wrong. This squandering of wealth destroys jobs.
The funniest thing about the project was more workers showed up in the last two weeks than any other time. They worked evenings and weekends. Equipment stayed busy. If they had done that from the beginning, this project would have been completed in a couple months at a fraction of the price.
The depraved indifference of government was also on display on this project. Workers ripped up the playscape in McKinley Park, then 16 months later replaced it with a practically identical new playscape, moved about 20 feet. They could have moved that playscape in days. Instead, they took it away for 16 months. It wasn’t for safety. The road was safer when unused during construction than now. After they replaced the playscape itself, they tortured kids by putting yellow tape on it for over a month while they waited for wood chips. A compassionate person would have scheduled the wood chips for the same day as the playscape installation.
In another example of depraved indifference, the city blocked access to Foodtime Market near Great Miami Boulevard. A manager who appreciated the value of commerce would have cut the median to allow access to the business from all directions, but instead the city blocked access from three of four directions, damaging its business. Furthermore, they put a park on the major intersection they created, insuring no business could take advantage of the new opportunity there. These actions will further depress the neighborhood.
Workers also created a water drainage problem at the intersection. This guarantees more gravy train dollars for repairs soon.
Imagine if a local business consortium had funded and managed this project. Because of the profit motive, they would have completed it in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost. The road would last longer. It would be safer. It would promote local businesses, not harm them or prevent new ones.
Government road projects enrich politicians, bureaucrats and contractors while making everybody else poorer.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com