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Time to pony up, car drivers; the Corolla can’t take it

The expected has happened again.

A highway within the boundaries of this week’s heat wave buckled under the heat and not just a little bit.

Photographs from local news reports show concrete turned to rocks and powder, with one part of the roadway shoved into a tent-like structure reportedly 3 feet tall. The southbound lanes of U.S. 75 near Denison, Texas, were shut down, closed for repairs.

Years ago, I ran into something similar driving through Kansas.

During a similarly hot summer, I was making frequent trips between my home in Hutchinson, Kansas, and my parents, who were in Kansas City.

I drove a white, 1975 Plymouth Valiant – the Plymouth version of the Dodge Dart – with a red, textured vinyl roof and a V8 318 Mopar engine under the hood.

It was out of style the day it came off the assembly line.

It was primitive, uncomfortable at times, had little in the way of amenities (no cruise, no electric windows, AM only radio), but that sucker ran like a top. Our resident gearhead, Barry, says the 318 was among the finest engines of its era.

That car was also built like a tank – we’re talking Patton’s 3rd Army material here. Solid steel, full of Gary, Indiana, and Detroit across the whole body.

On one of my return trips, I was heading onto U.S. 50 just west of Emporia, having come off Interstate 35. As I passed what is now the Flying J truck stop, I noticed that the pavement looked odd.

The wheel tracks were especially deep, and the center of the lane – between the wheel tracks – was raised. In fact, it looked tall enough I was a little uncomfortable.

That’s when my front bumper clipped it.

Maybe “clipped” isn’t the right word. Plowed into? Rammed? Destroyed? Perhaps even “collided with.”

In any case, the impact jarred me, even at just 45 miles per hour. I glanced in the rear view and could see the top of the bump in the center of the lane was now a jagged ridge of gravel, asphalt, tar from hasty repairs and dust.

My tank – I mean, car – was undamaged.

A few things about this summer reminded me of that long-ago incident – for one, it’s unbearably hot; for another, road maintenance – at least in Kansas – had kind of gone to hell then, as it has everywhere now.

We can’t fix summer heat. That other thing? We can fix that.

Yet our leaders in the federal government seem determined not to.

Some states have taken action. A few have increased the fuel tax to bring in more road revenue. Others have shifted road revenue that was pulled out of highway funds for years, returning it to its stated purpose.

Others have used tolling – a lousy, lazy, inefficient, overly expensive solution in my book.

Federal leaders have locked themselves into the idea that no tax increase is good, that there is never justification to increase what we pay our government – even a war.

I get it. I don’t like taxes. I don’t like paying them. I don’t like the IRS.

I don’t like when my tax money is used for silly or ineffective regulations that don’t do what they’re supposed to.

But you know what? I do like having the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. I like that the FBI catches crooks. I love having meat inspectors who keep me from being poisoned.

I like that someone tests new medications so what’s supposed to heal me doesn’t hurt me.

And I like having roads, be they interstate highways, blue highways through open country, or the street where I live.

Things cost us more than they used to. We all know that. I pay more for groceries, the government pays more for concrete and other road materials.

It takes people to build those roads. And people cost more, too – employees could not live on the wages we paid 23 years ago.

Yet that’s where the federal fuel tax is – exactly where it was 23 years ago, unchanged. Cars are getting better fuel economy, which means they’re paying less in fuel taxes.

Truckers pay their fair share, and I simply don’t buy the obviously misinformed statements by some public officials that they don’t.

But cars? The average car is paying less than 100 dollars a year in federal fuel tax.

That’s it.

Compare that with semis, which pay more than 7,500 dollars in federal taxes and fees.

It’s hard for me to think that trucks don’t pay their fair share when a truck weighs as much as 20 average cars, but pays as much federal tax as 75 cars.

Sorry, but it’s time to pony up, car drivers. You’ve been getting a free ride – or close to it – for far too long. Our roads are in far worse shape.

And my Corolla can’t take the kind of hit my ’75 Valiant could.

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