There is very little that government bureaucracy does not turn into a nightmare. A two mile stretch of road in a small Massachusetts town is a perfect example of this fundamental principle. Twice in the recent past, a squabble between highway departments at two levels caused this stretch of road to be closed for hours, inconveniencing hundreds of drivers, stranding a great many in enormous traffic jams.
At the root of the problem is the fact that this short, but very busy, stretch of road is a state highway. Because of that designation, the town highway department refuses to plow or treat the road. This section is at the top of a steep hill, which freezes sooner than the rest of the road. As you can imagine, it is far more difficult for the state highway department to determine when the road is in need of plowing or salting. The state assets are a lot further away and have a much larger area to plow, so it is far more difficult to begin plowing in a timely fashion. This is especially true in an emergency.
During one quick hitting snowstorm, a tractor trailer jackknifed, blocking the entire road. The big rig could not extricate itself because there was just too much snow on the road. This produced enormous traffic jams in both directions. Despite repeated request from the town police, the town highway department refused to plow out the truck. It took the state about two hours to respond with the necessary equipment, while the town plows cleared the rest of the streets and roads in town. This road is the main road through the town, and the most convenient way through a wooded and hilly section. Most of the cars that were caught up in the traffic jams when the incident first happened remained there until the state plows finally cleared out the big rig,
Listening to this on my police scanner was incredibly frustrating, far less frustrating than it was for the town police officers who repeatedly requested that the town plows rectify the situation, and had their requests denied. The officers could not understand why the town department refused the requests, considering the nature of the crisis. I could only imagine how frustrating it was for all of those drivers who were stuck for two hours.
A similar incident happened a few months later, though the delay was not quite as long. This winter the same stretch of road keeps icing over because of runoff from a stream. Motorists call the police reporting treacherous conditions. The officers check out the reports and request the town plows treat the roads. The town highway department declines the requests, declaring that the state plows must take care of the issues. After a long delay, putting motorists at risk, the state sanders show up. The police also request that the road be fixed so the runoff does not happen. With the cold conditions we’ve been experiencing lately, this has been a daily occurrence. After a month this drama still continues.
It seems to me that there is no good reason why the town highway department cannot take care of this road, especially in an emergency. It is a matter of common sense. However, common sense and government bureaucracy are mutually exclusive.