The following editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.
Many Nebraskans would describe themselves as being in favor of small government.
But, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. You might get it.
In Omaha small government has come to the suburbs in the form of dirt roads. The city does not have enough money to fix asphalt roads, so it has been dispatching crews to grind up the paving, leaving miles of dirt road in areas in which the homes are sometimes worth several hundred thousand dollars.
"No letter, no notice. We just came home on a Tuesday, and our street was ground up," Joe Skradski told the Associated Press. "Since then, it's been nothing short of a nightmare," "the dentist said about his neighborhood, where a dozen $400,000-and-up houses now line a dirt path.
Lincoln-area residents have no right to feel smug. Much the same thing is happening in rural Lancaster County. Just last week County Engineer Pam Dingman closed another three bridges when cumulative damage from storms washed away dirt from abutments, making them unsafe.
One of those bridges is made of materials that are probably a century old, Dingman said. The county bought the bridge from the state in 1932 and moved it first to Emerald. In 1968 the county moved it to its spot between Waverly and Bluff roads, where it crossed Camp Creek.
Erosion has widened the creek channel and the bridge is not long enough, which poses a challenge that Dingman has not yet solved. A new bridge would cost $1.2 million.
In the other two cases the engineer is doing the same thing she did with bridges she had to close earlier. She’s putting in place a relatively inexpensive short-term fix at a price tag of $25,000 each.
The dirt roads in Omaha and the road-closed signs in Lancaster County are a local manifestation of a national problem. Earlier this year the American Society of Civil Engineers said the nation needs to double its spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Other infrastructure spending gaps, including for water, sewer, electricity, airports and ports, also are a growing, the organization said.
Judging from the size of our tax bills it’s hard to believe that government isn’t big enough. But when it comes to infrastructure, there’s no doubt that elected officials are thinking small.
Unfortunately for the country’s long-term interests the anti-tax activists seem to be having their biggest success in choking off spending on roads, bridges, etc. Remember when anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said he wanted to reduce government to a size small enough to drag to the bathroom and drown in the bathtub?
That wailing sound you hear from homeowners with dirt roads and rural residents with long detours due to closed roads might mean that Norquist has achieved his dream.