Hitting the road is taking its toll

Aug. 30, 2013 @ 09:51 PM

There’s a poll our state leaders proposed on our willingness to pay a toll on some roads, in order to help with construction costs and maintenance of those roads. Sort of a toll poll, if you will. I understand the necessity of maintaining our highways, and the cost it entails, both in terms of money and inconvenience. But, you know the old saying: You can’t make an omelet without putting millions of drivers through hell on earth, sometimes for decades.

For example, I gave up going to Northgate Mall in 1997. The construction they were beginning on Interstate 85 wasn’t even that bad at that point, but it was on its way to becoming the Bermuda Triangle of … well … the Triangle. The construction grew … and grew … and grew, until I was forced to cancel several dental visits, because my dentist’s office is just off the freeway, and there was honestly no way to get there from ANYWHERE! 
One day, I found myself driving past it going north, then driving back by, going south. I tried getting there from four different directions. I finally called the office and told the secretary I could actually see her sitting at her desk as I whizzed by, but I couldn’t get to her. It felt like a pilot circling an airport, unable to land because every runway was COVERED WITH DUMP TRUCKS! Eventually, I had to give up and go home, and I’m telling you I was disappointed not to have somebody poke around in my teeth with sharp objects. I am someone who takes pride in dental hygiene, but out of loyalty to Dr. Jordan, I haven’t had a cleaning since last February.
What I didn’t understand was the endless years it seems to take to, say, widen a street. Seems to me that first, you cut down any trees too close to the side of the road, and you haul them away, hopefully to a farm where they can run and play with other trees. Then, you till and grade the ground so it’s even and level, and then you pour concrete on it and wait for it to dry, then you paint a few lines and you’re good to go.
But, after stopping to talk to one of the guys working on a road near my house, I realize it’s far more technically complicated than that.
First of all, you have to find guys to do the work. This is not easy. Sometimes it takes months. Not many men have the stamina to become an object of maniacal hatred, as most road-workers generally are. It takes time to talk a guy into being the possible target of a second-grade-carpool-van-driving mother who’s HAD ENOUGH! 
After you get the guys, things go a lot faster. Next, you get permission to chop down some trees, except no one ever knows who to get permission from, and no one wants to “commit,” although everyone wants a wider street.  So, they chop a few down. Then you have a few months of people protesting the “rape of the forest” and stuff. Interestingly, sometimes they’ll be widening a street in, say, Chapel Hill, but the folks who chain themselves to trees in protest usually live in, say, Topeka. They just go around protesting all street-widening everywhere, hoping to get themselves on “Dateline NBC” one day, and aspiring to rid the world of streets altogether, in favor of swinging from tree to tree as our preferred mode of transportation.
Anyway, after that’s over, they do have to till and grade the ground, although the actual terms are much more technical … let’s see if I remember … oh, yeah, “git ’er jest raaaight.” And then you pour the concrete, not just once, but as many times as it takes for school kids to come by and put their footprints, handprints, names and assorted … uh … slogans in it. Then you paint a few lines, which, I am told, is MUCH harder than it looks, and can take months, especially if you can’t get the paint guy to show up sober. You can’t have that in the road business, no siree.
I have a much better understanding about road construction now. My heart goes out to those poor men out there in the blistering summers and the freezing … well, chilly … winters here. In fact, I say it’s high time we stop all this road-widening business. The roads we have are fine, people, so why can’t we all just focus on something else for a while. Like timing the traffic lights between here and school with a tad more INTELLIGENCE ... sorry. 
But, more and more road work? Cancel it all! The fact that I may never be able to see the dentist again is just a small sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Vicki Wentz is a local writer, teacher and speaker.  Readers may contact her at chh@heraldsun.com, or visit her website, www.vickiwentz.com.