The Longevity of our Values

There was an assistant Scoutmaster in my brother’s troop in Austin, Sherman Coots, who worked for the highway department. Whitney recounted to me a story from one of there campouts in which Ron, one of the other ASMs was harassing Sherman about how long it was taking to finish the 71/150 interchange in Bastrop.

Ron lived out in Bastrop, which is a good way off to the southeast of Austin. The road to Bastrop, Texas highway 71, was being rebuilt through Bastrop to accommodate the town’s recent growth, and the construction was a big pain. There was this one overpass in the interchange of the 71 with TX 150 that TxDOT had been building for several years. You know the drill: every few months, a couple of guys come out and push a few piles of dirt around, but nothing really changes.

Ron was sick of it, and he gave Sherman some grief over why he couldn’t get the road fixed. After laughing it off a few times, Sherman got tired of the jabs. Ron said, “I lived in San Jose. Do you know how Caltrans fixes the freeways? They come out at night, retrofit the freeways, clean up, and re-open the roads in the morning. And they have earthquakes! Why does it take you years just to build a stupid overpass?”

Sherman explained it like this: when we build a bridge in Texas, we first have to do a comprehensive geological study to see if it is possible to build. If we can, we build the ramps. Once the dirt ramps are in place, we have to have 3 continuous months with a certain amount of rainfall, but not more than a certain amount, and then we can put down the gravel. Once the gravel is in, we can order the steel. That’s where we were with the 71 projects about six months ago. Do you remember what happened six months ago? That was the Williamson county flood. Our ramps got saturated, and we had to repack the ramps and add more gravel. Then we needed another three months with normal rainfall. We got it, and we put in the steel, but then we had another hard rain, and that steel rusted.

There’s only so much hardened American steel available, and we don’t buy inexpensive foreign steel. Finally, we got the new steel about a month ago and put it in. We should be ready to pave and start building in about a month. Once that’s started, it shouldn’t take much more than a few more months. Still, it will take nearly a month for it to harden properly. Do you know the difference between the 280 in San Jose and TX 71? They have to retrofit that road every five years or so, or else it might fall down. When you’re operating the largest highway system in the world, you can’t afford to build bridges that need to be retrofitted every five years. When we build a bridge in Texas, it won’t fall down.

Sure, earthquakes change things, but eight active fault lines subtend the interchange of I-10 and the west belt in Houston, but they haven’t touched that in 20 years.

Seems to me that in 100 years, we’ve never retrofitted the scout oath, and the scout law has yet to fall down.

Travis J. Williams, Ph.D.
Future Scout Parent