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Estimated Cost of Bad Roads

horses, horse, road, saving, annual, farmers and america

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ESTIMATED COST OF BAD ROADS. Most of the current literature on good-road economics greatly exaggerates the financial advantage of road improvement. Three such estimates will be examined.

A Wild Guess.

A favorite method of showing the waste fulness of bad roads is to compare the efficiency of horses on Euro pean and American roads. Some claim that a horse in Europe does twice as much work as in America, solely because of the better roads; while others claim that three horses in Europe do as much as four in America. The annual cost of bad roads to the American farmer is then said to be the annual cost of feeding one quarter to one half of all the horses in America plus the annual interest on the value of the superfluous horses. The results are truly appalling.

In the first place, the premise is a mere guess, since it is impos sible off-hand to state the relative efficiency of horses in Europe and in America.

In the second place, the above line of argument assumes that all horses are continuously upon the road. This assumption is seriously in error, since there are a large number of horses in the cities not in any way connected with the farms, and further since the horses on the farms include a number too young to work. and still further since most farmers require considerably more horses to raise the crops than to transport them to market.

A Rough Estimate.

Another common method of demon strating the cost of bad roads is to estimate the saving per horse due to improved roads. The annual saving per horse is variously estimated at from $10 to $20, and the saving in vehicles and harness is estimated as equivalent to $5 per horse, making a total annual saving by good roads of $15 to $25 per horse. This sum is then multiplied by the number of horses given in the census report or returned by the tax assessor, and the product is said to be the annual loss by the farmers due to bad roads. The result is startling.

No evidence is offered to show the actual loss by bad roads. Possibly a horse continually on the road could earn $10 to $20 per year more on good roads than on poor ones. But, on the contrary, farmers claim that the damage to a horse through continuously driving on "good roads," i. e., on stone roads, is more than $20 per

annum. "The hard roads stiffen up a horse." The cost of keeping a horse shod is considerably more with stone than with earth roads. These losses due to permanently hard roads are reasonably certain, while the advantages claimed are problematic. Possibly the dam age to harness is more with poor than with good roads; but farmers claim that vehicles wear out faster on stone than on earth roads. In short, the advantages are not all on one side, and the saving claimed is not proved.

Even though a horse continually on the road could and would earn $15 per annum more on good roads than on poor ones, the above estimate is grossly in error, since only a small per cent of the horses are on the road all the time, or since the average horse is on the road only a very small part of the time. Unquestionably a horse can do more work on good roads than on poor ones, but that does not prove that farmers, gardeners, etc., as a rule, would re quire fewer horses with better roads or that their horses would earn more.

Statistical Results.

Circular No. 19, published under date of April 4, 1896, by the Road Inquiry Office of the United States Department of Agriculture, contains data as to the cost of bad roads and the saving possible through road improvement. The conclusions of this circular have been so widely quoted and so generally accepted as to justify a careful consideration of them here. Table 1 is from that circular.

The author inquired of the Road Inquiry Office as to various details of the investigation, and in reply received the data in Table 2, page 12. with a statement that it contained all that was then known about the statistics.

Elaborateness of the

Owing to its seeming elaborateness, the above official investigation has carried gnat weight. The statement that ten thousand letters were sent out, apparently creates the conviction that the investigation was a very elaborate one; but the area to be covered was very great, and the inquiries average only one to 300 square miles,—or say about three inquiries to two counties. This shows that the attempt was not on a very elaborate scale.

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