Monday, November 22, 2010

Austerity in microcosm

Like thousands of Minnesotans, I left a theater just after midnight on Sunday morning to a world of ice. Not simply a slippery spot here and there, a solid eighth of an inch of glaze covered everything and took the world by surprise. The roads were terrible, the accidents numbered in hundreds. Minnesota's public employees were stretched to the maximum, put in danger to serve us. In this moment, the shape and scope of austerity snapped into sharp relief.

Reading the comments on the newspaper sites was illustrative of the fear and anger resulting from a night of terror on the roads. Obviously, nature is beyond human control, but the question was asked repeatedly - where was MnDOT? Why wasn't there any preliminary treatment of the roads? Well, here's what MnDOT said:

State transportation officials planned to send out trucks to salt roads when the rain was forecast to hit around 1 a.m., but it started to fall almost three hours earlier. Kevin Walker, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said trucks were called out right away but it took some drivers almost two hours to get to where they needed to be because of the slick conditions.

"Obviously, we got out there too late," Walker said. "We were trying to watch the forecast and manage overtime in a responsible fashion. Mother Nature caught us off guard."

About 170 trucks were salting highways and freeways in the Twin Cities overnight Saturday and into Sunday morning, Walker said. More than a dozen of them were involved in accidents — an unprecedented number, he said.

On Sunday evening, MnDOT sent out trucks to battle anticipated icy conditions.

"We've learned our lesson and we'll be out there earlier tonight," Walker said.

Well, isn't that nice! Look at the results of "trying to manage overtime," a dozen wrecked plows, hundreds of accidents, a human and property toll that runs into the millions. Some of this was clearly unavoidable, but salt on the roads earlier would have been helpful, by all accounts.

The ice also caused hundreds of slipping and falling accidents to flood emergency rooms. (You may have noticed I haven't posted in several days - this is due to one of these slip and fall accidents from the previous Saturday's snowstorm and a resultant broken ankle.) In many of these cases, EMT's from local fire departments responded. The State Patrol responded to hundreds of accidents in the last few days. So many thousands of Minnesotans directly received the benefits of government spending over the last few days, and the preventative action that could have limited the damage was scuppered by fiscal austerity.

At least you won't hear much complaining from the peanut gallery about wasteful government spending on days like this. As there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in icestorms.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

(Image Credit: MnDOT)

1 comment:

DiscordianStooge said...

There are plenty of atheists in foxholes, actually, and I'm guessing libertarians would say that if you go out in the ice you are going at your own risk, and if you run off the road, well, you'd better have a good private ambulance on speed dial.

The real problem here is that MnDOT relies on weather forecasts. They'd be just as well off throwing a dart at a clock to decide when to start salting.