The money is there



As a four-lane Hwy. 20 plows its final miles at long last, that great road that leads to … Norfolk, Neb. … it occurred to us stuck behind a turkey truck shedding feathers in the rain Tuesday night that Hwy. 71 from Early to Storm Lake is a wreck. It has been so for decades. It was that long ago that the state was talking about a “super-two” Hwy. 71 from Spencer to Carroll. They were talking about a bicycle trail that would run alongside, to connect the Great Lakes Bike Trail to the Sauk Trail that runs from Lake View and Carroll. And then it died, sacrificed at the altar of Hwy. 20.

Hwy. 7 is, as it always has been, an improved wagon trail. Hwy. 175 was designed by a chiropractor. We do not blame the engineers in Sioux City or Ames. But decisions are made that remain hard to swallow. We increased the fuel tax and, one would think, if you are spiffing up Hwy. 20 you would want to do something about the major corridors to which it connects. The state disinvests in Hwy. 7 or 175 because they are ancillary to Hwy. 20. The fuel tax increase, apparently, goes to the four-lane corridors and away from state and US highways that remain our rural commercial bulwark.

What good is a four-lane Hwy. 20 if you can’t get there from here without blowing a tie rod?

Our priorities are out of whack.

And it isn’t just at the state level. Take a prospective student’s family on a tour of Grand Avenue that becomes Circle Drive at the lovely south end of Buena Vista University’s football stadium. It is horrible. The visitors might wonder if we are hillbillies. The railroad crossing at Geneseo Street is smoother than the street. Curbs are long gone all over town as parkings slough mud into the street. But we have funds available for permeable paving, which is well and good if Irving Street is not eroding into the lake. Recall when Storm Lake used to have a summer paving program that would do a dozen blocks. We did Richland Street last season. The fuel tax increase is not paying off for the average person navigating our streets. We recall, years ago, when the city said it would pave one of the last gravel streets in town. Or at least a stub. It would have cost $70,000 to pave Memorial Road up to the back driveway of Grand Central Coffee, run by tax-paying citizens serving people in clean cars who don’t like tilting through muddy gravel potholes. But that $70,000 was sucked up by, presumably, plans for a permeable intersection. A gravel road is draining mud directly to our storm sewer, which leads to the lake. Storm Lake used to advertise its nice streets. Now we make excuses for them.

Some outfits are putting their road-use tax fund increase to good use. Buena Vista County is getting after its deficient bridges and culverts, and did a lovely job on C49 (the Varina blacktop) this year — as important to us as Hwy. 20. The county is figuring out how to use sales taxes and fuel taxes to get after a foundational problem with a crumbling infrastructure. Relatively speaking, its road burdens are as great as Storm Lake’s or the region’s. (And the challenges are growing with heavier truck traffic to a burgeoning number of livestock operations.)

We can do better. There simply are no excuses for the condition of Hwy. 71, our state highways or Grand Avenue. The money is there. It is all a matter of how you use it.

Can’t afford garbage

How we in Storm Lake handle garbage boils down to an income problem. After months of talks, the city council amended its ordinance to tighten up curbside standards but did not implement mandatory garbage collection. The council heard many stories from and about senior citizens and disabled people who can’t afford the monthly garbage bill. Now, isn’t it something when Storm Lake has a garbage problem because people can’t afford to get rid of it?

We suspect that just a tiny fraction of the unauthorized garbage in park or commercial dumpsters is put there by parasites on society. Many people can’t afford to hire it done. Sure, they have a cellphone because you can barely sign up for a utility or get a tooth pulled without that and a credit card. But after they pay that bill the garbage will just have to wait. Say what you will about Chicago, but Mayor Daley made sure your garbage got collected even on the South Side. Would that we could in Storm Lake.