When given the opportunity to speak to a group like high school students or senior citizens, I like to start the program with a seemly simple question. What road is the most important one in your municipality? Then I like to stand back and listen to the group banter back and forth on the answer. Typically, the first comment will deal with a state route that travels through the community and then roads that receive the most daily traffic. All are good answers and certainly are important for a number of reasons to those that considered them, but inevitably a voice will rise up from the crowd with the real best answer. "The road I live on".
For those of you who are tasked with answering the incoming calls or emails from residents raising concerns with your municipality's roadways, it is a rare occasion that the complainant is voicing their displeasure with a neighbor's route. Their focus will undoubtedly be the route that they travel on a daily basis. Think about it – if you close a bridge for repairs, how often would you get calls from those who do not travel on it asking when that darn thing is going to be finished? I would hazard to guess never.
During a raging snowstorm, like we get here in Northwest Pennsylvania, do you get a call asking why Jones Street isn't plowed yet when the caller lives on Smith Street two miles to the west? The citizen is only concerned about their ability to get from Point A to Point B and couldn’t care less about anybody else's travel plans. I would have to chalk that up to human nature, I guess. Is it a matter of being self-centered or more like self-preservation? That’s a question I’ll leave for behavioral scientists, but municipal officials and road crews understand that one essential truth – that the most important road is the one you care about most, not necessarily the one used by your neighbors.
Maybe you remember the days when we’d get hit with a big snowstorm and you just hunkered down and waited until the plow crews got to your area. Perhaps it was hours or maybe a day or two. This wasn't unusual, and most of us just planned for it and accepted it as a way of life in your rural area. That way of thinking is long gone. Nowadays it is not unheard of for the roadmaster to get a call in the middle of the night asking why their road hasn't been plowed yet. This person works the early shift and leaves for work at 3:00 am. They feel they are just as entitled as the day crew to the convenience of easy travel, even when Mother Nature tosses her best at us.
No matter that the plow crew has already done two five-hour rounds after coming in at 3 a.m. the day before and is scheduled to come back in at 3 a.m. the next morning. No concern if the drivers have had any sleep or let alone a bite to eat. Think about that some evening when you’re all snug in your bed and you hear the plow truck go by. While you're pulling the blankets up around your shoulders, the drivers are trying their best to get the roads passable in the absolute worst of conditions.
At Keystone Municipal Solutions, our team understands the pressures of maintaining essential services amidst weather emergencies and even natural disasters. And we have decades of experience managing the expectations and demands of those we all serve – the public. We offer a range of professional development and mentoring services, as well as interim management services, to help your team as they work every day to meet those demands and improve their operations. For more information on our services, click here.
So, the next time you get that resident complaint about the bridge that hasn’t been fixed yet, or the road that hasn’t yet been plowed, remind them of your tireless road crews – their long hours and dedication to their community – and reassure them that you are committed to taking care of “the most important road.”
Now… Let’s fire this thing up!
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.