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Maintenance by Contract

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MAINTENANCE BY CONTRACT. In view of the ordinarily inefficient system of caring for roads, it has frequently been pro posed to maintain them by contract. As a rule, work done under the supervision of a contractor who has pecuniary interest in the result is more economical than that performed under the direction of a public official; but it is not wise to do work by contract unless the amount required can be approximately known beforehand, and also unless the character of the performance can be easily deter mined after completion. Neither of these important conditions would be present in a contract for the maintenance of a public high way. Owing to the indefiniteness as to the amount and character of the work to be done, it is not at all certain that the maintenance could be provided fdr by i bntract for a sum less than the public officials could do the w4rle under the present system. The inspec tion would finally depend upon the road official, and the letting of a contract would increase the difficulties and expense of supervision.

Under the present system those who perform the road labor have an interest in the resulting condition of the roads, while the contractor would be interested only in doing the work for the least money; and therefore the roads would probably be worse under the contract system than under the present system.

It is claimed. that the contractor could maintain a trained corps, and therefore do better work than can be obtained by the present system. This would possibly be true if the amount of work to be done were sufficiently great; but the data in Table 16, page 142„ shows that the amount of work remaining to be done by contract is very small. The expenses for bridges and drainage almost cer tainly represent contract work, and a large part of the expense for "tile culverts" and for "repairs of bridges and culverts" is for mate rial. These items and the cost of administration constitute eight

tenths of the expenses reported in Table 16. The remaining items represent an expense for labor of only about $6.00 per mile; and therefore the ordinary expenditure for the care of earth roads is too small to justify maintaining a corps of expert road workmen. Further, leaving the road work to a comparatively few trained attendants would result in a great waste of time in traveling to and from the work. Again, the attendant would have so many miles of road under his care that he could visit any particular piece only at long intervals; and therefore could not do the Work at the most favorable time, and could not become intimately acquainted with the road—conditions absolutely necessary for proper maintenance. These objections have less force as road expenditures increase and as the money is concentrated on a comparatively few roads. Finally, a large proportion of the roads have an earth or gravel surface, and the labor required for their care is similar to that with which the farmer is familiar; and therefore he is not lacking in the skill required in maintaining them. The farmer who travels a particular road frequently and in all kinds of weather, has a more intimate knowledge of it than the man who sees it only occasionally; and therefore for this reason the farmer is best able to care for the road. Besides, the farmer uses the road more than anybody else, and he alone pays for it. See paragraph 3 of § 46.

The system of employing a man to give his entire time to the road is almost a necessity with first-class broken-stone roads, whose maintenance requires intimate knowledge and constant attention, , but the system is not applicable to earth roads..