It's that time of year when the freeze -- and occasional thaw -- leads not only to grouchy people who don't like the cold, but to fresh potholes that make already grouchy people grouchier when driving.

Bam! I cringe every time I accidentally get a tire in a deep pothole on the street or highway when I'm toodling along in my vehicle.

It's not as though some of the streets and highways around here are in great shape anyway.

How about that jaunt from Mattoon to Sullivan, then on to Decatur, on Illinois Route 121? I dread the bulk of that highway ride every time. It doesn't help that there's the smooth section on the curves and bridge over the Kaskaskia River just north of Allenville.

That's just a tease. Then it's right back to bumps and jarring thuds of the tires hitting all the impossible-to-miss rough spots on that road.

Officials at both the state and national level have talked lately about fresh legislative bills for improving infrastructure both hither and yon, and I sure wish they'd get on with it and get something accomplished.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower helped show how it's done with the Interstate Highway System, authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, according to Wikipedia, although I'm a bit loath to cite them. They're kind of the CliffsNotes of information on the web.

Be that as it may, many folks remember well when the interstates were built, pushing national routes such as U.S. Route 45 aside as the main thoroughfares across the country. Once upon a time, it was roadways such as this that handled heavy truck traffic from one major part of the country to the other.

When the interstates came along, towns that had thrived via railroad stops in the older days sometimes were abandoned in favor of any stop on the interstate. We still see this today, as commerce clusters around interstate exits such as right here in Mattoon.

I grew up south of Shelbyville near Clarksburg, and the latter was once a bustling town built up around a railroad stop. From what I recall learning, it was a pretty busy place back in the day. Then, with state highways and later the interstates bringing people nowhere near Clarksburg, it became a tiny bedroom community with not a single grocery store or business.

It had/has a ball diamond, which was/is a draw, but that's about it.

Just look at the importance of infrastructure when you look at Effingham. Someone was sure thinking ahead when they made sure -- assuming this is how it happened -- that the two major interstates crisscrossing the nation intersected there. That's why that town keeps growing and growing, as does its traffic and congestion.

Personally, I like Mattoon and Charleston quite well. They both have easy access to the interstate, but retain their small-town advantages. And Charleston has Eastern Illinois University as its shining jewel -- lack of a direct, in-town interstate exit be darned.

But more people mean more traffic and travel, which wears down roads and other portions of our infrastructure -- train networks, sidewalks, etc. -- and that makes regular maintenance even more important.

I find Mattoon to be pretty good at keeping up with potholes, although there's something left to be desired when it comes to the city's clearing of side streets when it snows. I suppose that's to be expected.

But when you talk about rough roads around here, you have to bring up Lincoln Avenue in Charleston. Boy, does that highway need resurfaced, and widened while they're at it! I assume it's the state that's responsible, since Illinois Route 16 is a state route, but I don't know.

No matter whose responsibility it is, we have some roads in serious need of improvement.

Infrastructure spending doesn't just better highway surfaces and make travel more comfortable -- it also creates jobs. And that's more money back into the economy, and that's a wise investment for any area, whether in the Land of Lincoln or beyond.

I suppose having roads in rotten shape creates some jobs -- at the mechanic shop, tow truck operator place or tire retailer business. But that's not the kind of creation of employment we need.

I was thinking about this and the mix and match of both poor and good roadways in the area, and I realized that it's not much different than a person's physical infrastructure.

It's all got to be maintained.

We go to the dentist for oral health care; we head to the heart doctor for cardiac well-being; and we women make our annual trips to the gynecologist for female "infrastructure" care -- and we do more than just turn our heads and cough, guys.

The skin on my hands gets so dry in the wintertime that I might need a whole work crew to smooth out the cracks and give me a good resurfacing.

(Pauses from typing to put lotion on hands while thinking about it.)

A human being's physical infrastructure isn't that different than our transportation networks. We neglect them at our own peril. One of the problems, though, is that as long as everything is working all right, we take it for granted.

But let something get "broken down" and we sure notice!

Our own "plumbing systems" are just fine as long as they work. Get a urinary tract infection or have a bit of constipation, though, and you can't get an emergency "crew" out fixing things up fast enough.

I find I have more "potholes" in my brain as I get older -- imagine that. I start to say something, sometimes, and suddenly it disappears ... jarred from my train of thought by a wintertime pothole, I suppose.

Everything needs maintenance ... whether it's our home, vehicle, relationships, physical well-being or the transportation infrastructure we all share on a daily basis. We ignore the signs of the system(s) breaking down at our own peril.

So let's support politicians who will get with it and vote for new infrastructure spending. It's a wise investment, and a job creator. I can't think of many better ways for the good ol' government to spend my hard-earned taxpayer money.

Now excuse me while I go put more lotion on my hands. Perhaps I'm more "high maintenance" than I thought I was.

Nah. Surely not.

Penny Weaver is the general manager and editor of the JG-TC. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of the JG-TC. Contact her at pweaver@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6863, and follow her on Twitter @PennyWeaver.

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