This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

(inspired by [daimajin]’s post)

I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but I’d like to list another reason for building rail-based transit that has nothing to do with the gasoline that cars burn. It’s the roads that they drive on.

Let’s start with peak oil. Some say we hit it years ago and OPEC has been hiding this fact*, others say we are hitting it now (hence the price spikes), while some say it’s a decade or two away. But nobody says it’s much further than that. When we hit peak oil the price will rise at an exponential rate and never come down.

The road supporters either ignore this fact or tell us that we’ll find an alternative fuel for our cars. Although I mostly disagree (battery power has some potential – the others are dead ends), I won’t debate that here. What I will bring up is the roads themselves.

Roads, at least the top level, are made of asphalt concrete: asphalt mixed with rocks. Asphalt is an oil product. This layer of asphalt concrete breaks down over time and use, and needs to either be patched using more asphalt concrete or regenerated by removing it, grinding it up, and adding more asphalt.

So what happens to our miles and miles of roads when the price of oil goes up? Road maintenance requires a lot of oil. We either spend much more on roads (not new roads here – the same old roads) increasing cost with time, or we abandon roads over time.

Of course, this is an amazing waste of money, time, and resources. Steel rail is expensive, but we won’t run out of steel any time soon. Electric power lines are expensive, but we’ll be glad we have them once the rest of our transportation system starts breaking down.

So this is one of the reasons that building new roads seems ridiculous to me. Any new roads can only expect a few decades before we will have to consider abandoning them.

* Apparently OPEC members benefit from exaggerating their oil reserves. The amount of oil they are allowed to sell is proportional to how much reserves they report that they have.

update It looks like some predictions of peak oil say there will be no peak oil, notably OPEC and our EIA. Of course, OPEC’s model predicted in 2007 that “oil resource base is sufficient to satisfy demand increases until 2030 at a price of $50-60 per barrel, increasing afterwards to account for inflation.” Oops. What’s a barrel of oil at now, $132?

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