Never Time to Do It Right

Contributed by Roger Bruce

There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it twice. This was a popular saying when I was a soldier, whenever you had a guy who goofed things up and had to redo them.

A few years ago, I had a very cheap car that had an issue with the right front wheel. So, I whipped off the road and a guy happened along who lived right nearby, who swore he was Alaska’s greatest mechanic (We hear that a lot). I could see the guy was hurting for cash, so I hired him to do some work on the thing. I came back a couple days later and here this guy was dead drunk and the boot on that side of the axle had been torn all the way around. This genius was under there with a needle and sewing thread trying to sew the boot back together. Well, that was the end of that repair job.

This seems pathetic, but we’re seeing something very similar here when it comes to road construction. We have roads that are so pitifully designed as to be embarrassing. I went out to Vine road after the earthquake and looked at the damage there. Certainly, that hunk of road would have been destroyed, or at least damaged regardless of the type of construction… well maybe. But it doesn’t take an earthquake to destroy Alaska’s roads.

Again, if you go to northern Europe you find frost heaves and all that just like we have here, but you don’t see roads being demolished by them. Why? Because they do quality work, that’s why. They don’t “sew the boot together with thread” knowing it won’t work there. They build their roads like they build fine watches and such. They build roads there of concrete that is three feet thick and they build them with rebar and road mats to reinforce them. My Dad made road mats for his last 15 years at the steel mill in my birth town. Those things are the standard throughout the country. Shoot, I saw them being used in the construction of the new parking garage at the Old Federal Building in Anchorage… but not in our highways.

No, the way Alaska builds its roads/highways is to tamp the dirt down and lay six inches of asphalt right on top of it. And we wonder why our roads disintegrate every time there’s a shake? After this shoddy work, we’re expected to act like they’ve done some great thing. Sometimes I feel like we are parents and they are small children who make a poor crayon masterpiece and we hang it on the fridge to make them feel good about themselves. Isn’t it time we called a spade a spade and demanded better?

Some folks just became angry at me. Say, “Bruce, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Then you’ve always done it wrong.

They now have the big craters on the Glenn fixed… but for how long? I say again, the president has promised to push $1.5 trillion into infrastructure and has also promised emergency funds to help Alaska rebuild. I Pray that with our new governor it’ll be put to good use. We need the Glenn and the Parks widened by one lane in each direction at least to the interchange. We need to reopen and relay the old Glenn all the way from Peters Creek to the off ramp near mile 28 so that if all else fails, you at least have that road on which you might drive. And above all else we need the bridge. When or if it is ever built, it must be six lanes wide or it will do us no good at all. And when or if it is built, it must be designed to withstand an earthquake like the one we just had.

I was at Fort Lewis, Washington, just outside of Tacoma, when that rather large (6.8 officially) earthquake happened there. There was some destruction, but as with this recent one here, no lives were lost except one person who had a heart attack assumedly associated with the quake. But the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, once the longest suspension bridge on earth I think, suffered little to no damage. Since then, they’ve built a brand new one right next to that one. It can be done. In fact, I’m convinced anything can be done, if we want it badly enough. That remains to be seen.

I could say I told you so, but I won’t. I will simply say, let’s join in as one voice, in a chorus of “We Demand Better.” We’ve got the right president and now we’ve got the right governor. Let’s see if we can do things a bit better, huh?