Houdini Blues

Issue 10, April 2002

Welcome to this the tenth issue of Houdini Blues, a subzine of TAP edited by Michael Lowrey, 6903 Kentucky Derby Drive, Charlotte, NC 28215. My email address is mlowrey@infi.net or call me at (704) 569-4269. Bonus points if you catch the music reference in the subzine name.

In this issue, Pete Conrad, the last game from CCC has ended in a four-way draw. Congratulations to all involved. I have about five signed up for the next Dip game.

© 2002 by Michael Lowrey. All right reserved.

N.C. Road Policy

Those traveling across North Carolina in the next few years may sense that more road maintenance work that usual is going on across the Tar Heel state. You would not be imagining things ­ the General Assembly has made nearly a half billion dollars available over the next three years. While allocating certainly is welcome news, the situation also highlights North Carolina's persistent misallocation of road money. Until road priorities are determined by sound engineering practice and not politics, such transfers cannot address the state's larger underlying problem.

It's no secret that North Carolina has not done a particularly good job of maintaining its road network over the past decade or more. The problem was highlighted in a 1998 performance review of the Department of Transportation, which noted that the agency only had just over half the money each year it needed to met its own resurfacing goals. The audit also noted that this was not a new occurrence; DOT had fallen well short of these goals since at least 1990.

The result of such under funding is predictable; road condition deteriorates. Drivers, of course, face bumpier rides on streets that have more potholes in them. And there are no lack of state roads with potholes and patch jobs. Even the roads in the state's primary network are being resurfaced only about every 16 years on average instead of every 12 years as is recommended. Overall, 41 percent of the state's roads are in fair or poor condition.

Just as troubling as the quantity of roads needing work is their distribution. Recently only one county, Gates, with more than 15 percent of its roads rated in poor condition was east of Forsyth County, compared to 18 such counties west of Guilford. Clearly the state's allocation formula has provided good roads for some North Carolinians and not others. It is also difficult to find any justification why over a quarter of the roads in Rowan County in 1998 had deteriorated into "poor condition", when the state average was 7.9 percent.

While road maintenance has been grossly underfunded,

another fund has run a large unspent surplus. In 1989, the state increased the gas tax and certain fees to build more roads. This extra money goes into the specially established Highway Trust Fund. In the grand political tradition, the Highway Trust Fund offered something for just about everyone. Exactly 61.95 percent of the money goes for 28 intrastate road projects specified by the General Assembly, with an additional 25.05 percent going to seven urban loop projects. The remaining 13 percent is split evenly between paving dirt roads and giving extra money to cities for their own roads. Once the projects are complete, the extra taxes will end. All other state road projects in the state continue to be funded through the existing Highway Fund.

The list of trust Fund projects certainly reflects the political realities of 1989 ­ a grand trade off to ensure votes from both urban and rural areas. A funding formula even controls how money for the intrastate is distributed across the state. In practice, it assures that the western and eastern parts of the state get more road funding sooner then could be justified by either population or road usage.

One major disadvantage of this approach has become increasingly obvious in recent years. Just because funds are available for intrastate projects now doesn't mean the specified projects actually currently can use that level of funding. In fact, many projects have hit snags or are still in the planning stages. The Highway Trust Fund only needs about half of its current balance of some $800 million. This has allowed the General Assembly to put $153 million this fiscal year into maintenance, with an additional $ 317 million to follow over the coming two years. Other Trust Fund money has been diverted to transit and to help close the state's budget deficit. In theory, these diversions should be repaid in the future, though the mechanism for doing so hasn't been identified.

At the same time, the state has a huge backlog of Highway Fund projects. A 1998 audit noted that the state was facing a $2.1 billion shortfall for projects in its then current seven-year plan. All identified projects DOT's on books would take 26 years to complete at 1998 funding levels.

Such inequities and funding shortfalls are hardly surprising when good roads are regarded not as a basic service provided by the state but rather a s a prize to be won through political favors. This political process, however, does not do a good job of ensuring that the road dollars are spent where they will do the most good. Until good economic and engineering practice take precedence over small time politics, the current transfers to road maintenance not withstanding, North Carolina drivers will be hitting a lot more potholes than they need to.

The deadline for all games is April 29.


Outpost, Turn One

1. HAL (Partridge) opens the bidding on a Nodule and wins it (Wa8, Wa7, Or4, Or3, Or3).

2. Major Tom (Conlon) opens the bidding at 25 on a Warehouse and wins it (Wa6, Wa5, Or5, Or4, Or4, Or1).

3. Bartertown(York) opens the bidding on the Data Library and wins it for 15 (Wa6, Or4, Or3, Or2) .

4. MMC (Brosius) buys a Water Factory (Wa5, Or5, Or4, Or3, Or3) and transfers population to it.

5. Vince's Angina (Lutterbie) buys a Water Factory (Wa8, Wa8, Or2, Or1, Or1) and transfers population to it.

6. HBDC VIII (Wilson) buys a Water Factory (Wa5, Wa5, Or5, Or5) and transfers population to it.

7. HICK (Hood) buys a Water Factory (Wa9, Wa6, Or3, Or2) and transfers population to it.

Purchase order: HAL, Major Tom, Bartertown, HICK, HBDC, MMC, Vince's Angina

Upgrades Available: 1 Nodules (25), 3 Heavy Equipment (30), 3 Warehouses (25)

Not Yet Delievered: 3/4 Nodules, 2/3 Heavy Equipment, 1/2 Warehouses, 4/5 Data Libraries

HBDC-GM: I have to ask, what does Peresviet mean or where does it come from?

GM-HBDC: The Peresviet was a Russian battleship that served in the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. I'll have a write up on her soon.

HAL-MPL: I hope your choice of name is not an omen. Join the Peresviet tours, visit two ocean bottoms for the price of one!

MPL-HAL: Well, the Peresviet certainly did visit two ocean floors

Outpost Factories Upgrades VP

HAL OrF, OrF, WaF No 5

Major Tom OrF, OrF, WaF Wa 4

Bartertown IV OrF, OrF, WaF DL 4

HICK OrF, OrF, WaF, WaF 3

MNC OrF, OrF, WaF, WaF 3

Angina OrF, OrF, WaF, WaF 3


Pete Conrad (99I)

Diplomacy, Game Over

Draw proposal: AEFT draw passes (4 to 0). Congratulations to all. End game statements are due April 29.

Press: Turkey: I hate this game.

Pete Conrad 1999I

GM: Michael Lowrey The Carolina Command & Commentary/Houdini Blues

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09

Austria 4 5 5 5 5 5 6 7 7 Sara Reichert (Resign, Fall 1907), Mark Kinney (Draw Spr. 1910)

England 3 3 3 3 4 5 6 6 6 Brad Wilson (Drop, Fall 1901), Paul Milewski (Draw, Spr. 1910)

France 6 6 6 7 9 10 13 12 13 Steve Mauris (Draw, Spring 1910)

Germany 5 6 7 6 3 2 1 0 0 Fred Wiedemeyer (Eliminated, Fall 1908)

Italy 4 4 4 5 4 3 1 1 0 Steve Cooley (Eliminated, Fall 1909)

Russia 4 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 Dan Gorham (Eliminated, Fall 1904)

Turkey 4 6 7 8 9 9 7 8 8 Pat Conlon (Draw, Spring 1910)