Potholes Degrade Parkway Experience
Broken pavement is symptomatic of economic malaise, misplaced priorities.
I was out walking in the County Grounds the other day, one of my usual haunts. I took the gravel path east around the detention basin from Tosa Pool. When I reached what has been a wide gravel access road, I was surprised to find a pristine expanse of newly laid asphalt stretching as far as I could see in both directions.
My first reaction was, who needs asphalt here where gravel would suffice? I am often dismayed when parkland is covered with concrete or asphalt. When I’d had a moment to reflect on the smooth surface further, though, I got angry instead.
Why has this dead end road that bears so little traffic been made so smooth while the heavily used Menomonee River Parkway continues to crumble? If you’ve driven on the parkway lately – or anytime in the past several years – you know how bad it is. Potholes that can wreak havoc with a suspension system or cause a blowout seem to appear overnight.
Eventually, in warm weather, overworked county crews come by and throw a patch of asphalt in the worst of the holes. But in winter, the patches don’t stand a chance against the snowplows. By April every year, the parkways look like they’ve been bombed. I’ve seen whole caravans of cars swerve one after the other into the opposite lane to avoid a wide swath of potholes.
If, like me, you enjoy riding a bicycle along the parkway, it’s even worse. There are some stretches where the severity of the conditions goes beyond the potential to cause expensive damage. It is downright dangerous to ride a bike on these roads.
Between Swan Boulevard and Congress Street, the Oak Leaf Trail coincides with the Menomonee River Parkway. The off-road section of the Oak Leaf Trail north of Congress is one of the loveliest places to ride a bike, and I used to go there regularly. I don’t go as often now because I have to ride on the parkway to get there. It worsens year by year.
I made a call to the Milwaukee County Parks Department to ask about the situation. The county has a budget for road repairs, and when a particular road reaches the top of the priority list it gets repaired. For now, believe it or not, there are worse roads on the list than this stretch of the Menomonee River Parkway. Compounding the problem for our particular stretch of parkway, apparently, are some turf battles between Milwaukee County and the City of Wauwatosa over who is responsible for repairs.
The paving of the road into the County Grounds, although on county land, was part of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's detention basin construction project and as such was paid for out of that budget – a different pot of taxpayer money.
Personally, I don’t blame the county workers. It’s the budget. Who isn’t aware that the county budget is out of whack or that the parks are underfunded? The problems predate any current incumbent and have continued to escalate through administrations of different political persuasions.
It’s easy to pick on potholes. No one likes them. I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a louder public outcry over this before now. But frankly, we are all responsible. In the current anti-tax environment we are going to have to live with potholes a long while. What we need is the political spine to increase revenues. Otherwise our broken roads will never be repaired.
While we’re at it, let’s get our priorities straight. Take a look at the photo essay and tell me what’s wrong with these pictures. Why are our taxes going to pave roads we don’t use instead of the ones we do? If this kind of thinking prevails we really will find ourselves at a dead end.