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Road Administration

roads, local, county, america, wagon, railroads and time

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ROAD ADMINISTRATION. Up to the present time, with but few exceptions, the management of roads has rested upon local authorities, either those of townships or counties. In those cases in which the administration of road affairs is nominally in the hands of the county authorities, nothing has usually been done except to divide the county into road districts and virtually transfer all authority to local officials appointed for that purpose. Apparently it is impossible to secure either good roads or an efficient road ad ministration by the action of officials who have only local authority, and who are necessarily swayed by purely local. if not individual, interests. This is not peculiar to America. since great difficulties have always been encountered in maintaining a system of public highways by any locally governed community.

The fundamental difficulty is that the small administrative unit makes it impossible to secure efficient supervision, since the time necessarily required in road administration is but an incident among private or official duties. Another difficulty is that the official is usually elected for political reasons, rather than for his ability in matters relating to the roads. A further difficulty is that the tenure of office is short. and successive officials have conflicting views as to road administration and road improvement.

Another objection to the small administrative unit is the im probability of the district's having suitable machinery in sufficient quantity to effectively and economically care for the roads. At present a large amount of time is wasted in transferring machinery from one locality to another.

Classification of Roads.

As a remedy for present evils, it has frequently been urged that the roads should be classified, ac cording to their importance, into state, county, and township roads, or into county, township and neighborhood roads, the roads of each class to be under a corresponding administrative board. The possi bilities and need of this classification vary greatly with the topography of a locality. For example, in a prairie country one road is nearly as good as another, the market places on the railroads are nearly uniformly distributed, and all of the roads have substantially equal traffic; while in a broken country the railroads are in the valleys, and a wagon road in a valley may carry the traffic for a very large outlying area. The proposed classification has never been practi

cally tried in this country except perhaps in the cases where state aid is granted—as will be considered presently (see I 54). The proposed change promises some advantages, but it is by no means proved that the difficulties of administration would be lessened or that the quality of the roads would be improved.

In some of the older countries of Europe, the public highways are classified in a manner similar to that referred to above, and the work of administration seems to be reasonably effective; but success in Europe does not guarantee equal success in America with its different social, political, and industrial conditions.* There is also an important difference between our own and European countries as to the abundance and distribution of road-building material ( 300), and also as to the length of roads proportional to area and population.t To a great extent, the nations of Europe which are noted for their improved highways were experienced in road building and administration before the advent of railroads; and consequently a large proportion of the wagon roads are permanently hard roads— either broken stone or stone block. On the other hand, the develop ment of America has taken place to a large degree since the intro duction of railroads, the railroad in many cases preceding the coming of the population; and consequently the railroad has made unneces sary national or state wagon roads. A large proportion of the wagon roads of America are purely local, i. e., run from the farm to the railroad town, and only those near the large cities have more than local importance; and hence a large proportion of American roads have only an earth surface, and do not require as close watch ing nor as much care as the more expensive European roads with their greater traffic. Ordinarily, in America the amount of money expended per mile of road is so small that any adequate supervision by a county or state official would probably add disproportionately to the expense (see § 51).

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