Just how loss arises from bad roads is being shown very ably in the magazine, Good Roads, now in its second year, which is edited by Mr. Isaac B. Potter, of New York. The farmers are the greatest sufferers. Where wagon wheels sink hub-deep in mud at some seasons, a farmer who has much hauling to do must keep one or two more horses than he would need if he had only hard, even roads to go over, and his loss in the wear and tear of horseflesh, harnesses, and wagons is a heavy tax on his income. It often happens that a farmer finds the roads absolutely impassable with a loaded wagon just at the time when some of his produce would bring the highest price if he could haul it to a railroad, and he is forced to wait and take a lower price later. Livery-stable keepers and all other owners and users of horses and vehicles suffer from bad roads in similar ways.
The welfare and prosperity of a district that has bad roads suffer in many respects. If getting about for business or recreation is unreasonably difficult, its inhabitants tend to crowd into the towns and cities rather than live in the more wholesome conditions of the open country. Manufacturing concerns are often driven to place themselves in the villages and draw their employees to them there, when, but for the one item of teaming over bad roads, they could be carried on to better advantage in the country. Good roads would keep the employees of these concerns and the other persons above mentioned in the farming districts, thus making these districts more thickly settled and increasing the value of their lands.
In order to obtain better roads two things are necessary. The first is to create a general conviction that the improvement of our highways is imperative, and that money wisely expended for this purpose is sure to return. The second requisite is to place all road making and mending under the charge of competent road-builders. Various efforts to secure these ends are being made, and the aid of county and State authorities, and even of the national Government, has been invoked to further the movement. While it is very desirable that the highways of adjoining localities should be under some central supervision, so that they may be made to form a connected whole, it may yet be questioned whether the national Government could be an effective agency in road improvement. Why, for instance, should the dwellers beyond the Mississippi and on the Pacific coast be taxed to maintain in Washington a school for road engineers and a museum of road construction that few, if any, of these distant communities could derive any benefit from? A more practicable scheme would be to have instruction in road engineering given at each of the State Colleges of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. In a country showing such wide differences in soil, rainfall, temperature, and topography between different sections as the United States does, road-building can be taught and administered far more efficiently by the State or the county than by the nation.
There is need of much intelligent care in framing legislation in the interest of the movement for better roads. Annoying prohibitions should be no part of the policy of the road reformers. For instance, large loads carried on wheels having narrow felloes and tires do great damage to roads; hence it has been proposed to prohibit narrow tires on heavy wagons. A much better policy is that adopted in Michigan, of giving a reduction of one half their roadtaxes to those who will use broad tires. The movement for good roads shows a lusty vigor. The success that it has already achieved is splendid testimony to the efficiency of voluntary association of individuals, and if its leaders continue to carry it on without the paralyzing patronage of the General Government it is likely to attain great results.