Saturday, August 27, 2016

Small Town Road Issues

I have to relate something that, in my opinion, could only happen in a small town like mine.

Like just about any municipality, one topic of discussion that always comes up is the maintenance of the roads. At some point just about everyone who lives in a town like ours gets concerned about the condition of the road on which they live. Like many towns, ours has a multiyear schedule that lists the roads that will be fixed in a given year, with some requiring just some paving while others require a complete reconstruction.

It's no surprise that some folks don't like the fact that their road may not see anything other some patching for a few years. Their road is always in dire need of being redone. They don't want to hear about how the list was assembled or that other roads in the schedule ahead of them are in much worse shape and are almost impassible. They want to be moved up on the list and let someone else's road be put on the back burner. They usually don't get their way, at least not here.

What is a surprise is when the residents on a road scheduled to be completely rebuilt come to the road agent and the board of selectmen demanding that their road be taken off the list altogether. If they had their druthers, they'd prefer if the town tore up the existing pavement and return the road to its original dirt and gravel. Their reasoning?

Cars are traveling too fast on their road as it is and making it better will encourage even higher speeds.

Frankly, I don't blame them because they're right.

The posted speed limit for their road is 25 MPH. The highest speed measured by radar on that same road: 71 MPH. This road is a narrow country road with one very steep decline at one end. The road surface isn't very good as it is and someone somehow managed to go 71 MPH on that road. It's a miracle they aren't dead. The average speed is about 40 MPH, a good 15 MPH above the limit, a speed that is still too fast for some stretches of that road.

As such, their argument for not fixing the road and actually degrading its condition by returning it to a dirt and gravel surface makes sense. It will also save our town a good portion of the $250,000 budgeted for fixing their road next year.

Are they going to receive what it is they've asked for?

That's yet to be decided.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It's Time To Take A Step Back

New Hampshire's state legislature is unique in many ways, one of the most prominent being its size – 400 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate. That makes it the third largest legislative body in the world, with only the UK's Parliament and the US Congress being larger.

One of the other things that used to make New Hampshire different from many other states was that its legislature only met every other year. That meant the legislators had to 'take care of business' because they knew they had limited time to get everything done before the legislative session ended.

That all changed in 1984 when a group of citizens and legislators made a pitch to switch to annual legislative sessions. Their reasoning behind the change was that the 5 to 6 month biennial session was too long and that shorter annual sessions would be less of a burden.

They sold us a pig in a poke.

Those 5 to 6 month long biennial sessions have turned into 5 to 6 month long annual sessions. The promise of shorter annual sessions never materialized. The cost of annual sessions was more than twice that of the biennial session. In that time a lot of useless legislation has been filed and wasteful spending has been passed. There were no savings in either time or money. Annual sessions are far more of a burden on both legislators and taxpayers than biennial sessions.

We were conned and I think it's time to do something about it.

It's well past time to amend the state constitution, specifically Part II, Article 3 - When to Meet and Dissolve - and go back to biennial sessions. Annual sessions have failed to live up to the promises made by its proponents and it's time to admit that we made a mistake. It's time to take a step back.

I already know the argument will be made that we can't go back now, that we can't possible handle the state's needs meeting only every other year. But I can counter that by looking at the biggest state in the continental US – Texas - which has a single 90-day legislative session every two years and it seems to be able to handle all of its business in that time. New Hampshire is a fraction of the size of Texas (9,349 sq miles vs 268,596 sq miles) with a fraction of the population (1.33 million vs 27.97 million), but we won't be able to handle the state's business in 5 to 6 months every 2 years? I'm not buying it. That implies that either the people in Texas are a heck of a lot smarter and work harder, or we've gone stupid and are incapable of doing what we once could do. I'm not buying that either.

The 'experiment' of annual legislative sessions has failed. It's costing us money and not living up to its promise. It's time to declare the experiment over and get back to something we know works and works well.