Roger Marolt: Water under the bridge or cash flow over the top?
Unfortunately we can’t put a price tag on frustration. If we could, The city would owe us a bunch of money for the agony they put us through tinkering around with the Castle Creek Bridge over the past several offseasons. As it is, all we can do is gripe and all they have to do is begin a short conversation with, “the repairs had to be done.”
“During the rush hours, but not on weekends?”
“You don’t really care, do you?”
I was thinking about this last Friday morning when road crews temporarily patched some potholes on the bridge that resulted from not doing it right the first time last fall and which they will have to come back and do longer-term fixes on again this fall. Since I don’t know any better, I think they must be enjoying this.
If an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, then an accountant’s must be where his books get cooked to allow him to get into the details. Yes, it’s that bad! Instead of sitting in my car twiddling my thumbs waiting on the flagman to flip his sign, I manipulated my digits to perform an impromptu traffic jam audit. In the interest of full disclosure, I can count on my toes while they are still inside my shoes and unashamedly employed that comparative advantage in this instance. And, yes, I move my lips when doing math in my head, too.
Using this primitive technology and hand tools, I figured that there might have been 10,000 people (busers included) in that traffic jam last Friday morning, each wasting around 40 minutes of time, while 10 guys dumped temporary asphalt in eternal pot holes and two others drove machines over them to pack them at least tight enough to, hopefully, last until fall. That comes out to 6,666 hours of human life wasted over this project, just last Friday. That’s a hellish number.
The textbooks say the opportunity cost of these squandered hours should be valued at the hourly rate the stranded commuters would have been paid at work during this time, but we have ski techs instead of textbook writers in Aspen, so the academics don’t understand a few things about us. We don’t value our time by how much we could have made at work. We value time by how much we enjoy it on the ski mountains or all the other things we do around here besides work. Many would agree that figure is more than what the most expensive attorney in New York City makes per hour.
But, for discussion’s sake, lets be conservative and value one hour of precious human life at $50; less than a pair of jeans at a Lands End wholesale outlet. And, yet, even at this everything-must-go price, the cost of repairing pot holes on the bridge would approach $350,000, plus the asphalt and shovelers.
You want heartburn? I’ll give you heartburn. Rewind to last fall and spring when we had to endure this bridge construction madness for weeks on end for both daily rush hours and every trip to the school campus in between. Would it surprise anyone that the human life cost of that project by this Castle Creek calculus might have exceeded $50 million? If so, does anybody think that project was worth it?
This is only the cost of wasted time. I can’t even start on the cost of other negative impacts like noise and dust. What would that even look like? The present value of future expenditures by Aspenites for hearing aids and psychiatric care? I don’t have enough phalanges for that. If all of these costs came out of the city budget, there wouldn’t be a city budget … or something like that.
Yet, these isolated construction projects directly affecting the daily traffic flows are just amplifications of what goes on here every day. While trucks and tractors are not a majority of the vehicles on the highway, they have an outsized negative impact on traffic and the general quality of life. If dump trucks were fast, they would be recruited by Uber. Instead, they are the elephants in our town dancing around on their hind legs trampling the lifestyle out of this place in a cloud of dust.
Why don’t we try a little harder to calculate some of the real costs of projects in town before approving them? Somebody can figure out how much of our time a big truck moving in and out of town wastes. While we can never get wasted time back, we can make sure somebody compensates us for it. Then again, if we all end up living in our cars stuck on Highway 82, think of the money we might save on housing. We can shower at the ARC.
Roger Marolt knows sitting in traffic doing math on his fingers is a waste of time, but it beats listening to himself sing to the radio. Email at email@example.com
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