M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Tuesday, July 09, 2002  

Hey, how about that traffic jam on I-35 south of the Twin Cities on Sunday afternoon? Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about, because that kind of clusterfuck could only be the result of all of humanity being on the same stretch of road at the same time. Alternatively, the problem may have been criminal incompetence on the part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. What’s that? You weren’t there? Well, I guess that leaves MN/DOT holding the bag, then.

I get that the climate here not only causes a lot of damage to the roads, but leaves crews a very limited window in which to fix said damage. Here in Minnesota, you can’t even get a laugh any more out of saying that the two seasons are Winter and Road Construction because it’s too true to be funny (not that that’s going to stop me from using it to cadge for chuckles from people who don’t live here). Once I saw an editorial cartoon of a guy trying to back out of his driveway, only to find the end of it blocked by a “Road Closed” sign. Sometimes that doesn’t feel like an exaggeration. Some inconvenience is unavoidable, I know, which is why God invented alternate routes. However, I maintain that it is possible to coordinate maintenance projects in such a way as to minimize disruptions. It’s just that that would require giving a rat’s ass.

Lest you think that I’m bitching just because I wasn’t able to race my Saturn station wagon from Des Moines to Minneapolis in three hours flat at unbroken autobahn speeds, let me clarify: the fourteen miles of single-lane freeway between the state line and Interstate 90 didn’t bother me that much. Resurfacing happens, and you just have to accept the fact that fourteen miles is plenty of time for everyone to catch up with the idiot who thinks that orange barrels=a 30 mph speed limit.

The bridge work at I-35 and Highway 19 in Northfield shouldn’t have bothered me either. Ditto whatever they’re doing fifteen miles up the road in Lakeville. I’m fine with doing the crossover/bypass thing for a quarter mile and then doing it again later. What pisses me off, what chaps my hide, what clouds my vision with the crimson mist of a mindless berserker fury, is the fact that nobody seems to trust me to be able to handle that, and everyone thinks that it’s a better idea to SHUT DOWN HALF OF THE TRAFFIC LANES SOUTH OF THE TWIN CITIES FOR FIFTEEN WHOLE MILES FOR NO FUCKING REASON.

I’m no traffic expert, but you don’t have to be Campbell Scott in Singles to know that this is a terrible, terrible, terrible plan. You want to fix a bridge? Fine, fix the bridge. You want to fix another bridge at the same time? Okay, go ahead. You want to turn the fifteen miles of road between those bridges into a single-lane parking lot? Not with my tax dollars, Hoss.

According to MN/DOT’s website, there are actually three projects going on. The first one (if you’re coming from the south, like I have three times in as many weeks) is the Highway 19 bridge. They also just happen to be doing some road resurfacing starting just north of the Highway 19 project. You know, while they were at it. That accounts for another ten miles or so. The part that constitutes a crime against humanity is the ADDITIONAL FIVE MILES where ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is being done.

Here’s what the MN/DOT website has to say about that:

In addition, northbound I-35 single lane restrictions have been extended to the I-35 bridge improvement project at Lake Marion in Lakeville. The restrictions were extended to improve motorist safety between the two I-35 improvement projects.

Hey, MN/DOT? Kiss my ass.

Is it really so dangerous to open up the second lane for a few miles, just to loosen things up a little? Even if two drivers crash into each other trying to merge back into a single lane because they’ve forgotten how to perform such a tricky maneuver in the fifteen miles since the last time they pulled it off, whose problem is that? Theirs. To be fair, it’s also the problem of everyone who’s racked up behind them, but you know what? That’ll also be the case under any number of circumstances that are more likely to come about under the current situation. What if someone’s car overheats? What if someone’s body overheats because their car doesn’t have A/C? What if someone runs out of gas? Sneer if you want to, but I burned a quarter of a tank while “driving” these fifteen miles. What if someone has claustrophobia or panic disorder and launches into a psychotic episode? What if someone becomes so overcome with impotent road rage that he takes out an AK-47 and goes on a leisurely stroll along the shoulder putting rounds in heads? Based on the way things looked on Sunday, all it would take is for one car or driver to be taken out of commission and traffic would be backed up all the way to San Antonio. I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me like MN/DOT would want to reduce its exposure to a lawsuit from something like this when it would be so preventable.

I’m not suggesting that MN/DOT wants us all to kill each other so they don’t have as many potholes to patch. I’m more inclined to suspect that this foul-up is a result of bureaucracy. See, Minnesota is divided into several regions, and each of those regions is the responsibility of a different section of MN/DOT. Which region does the Death March fall into? You guessed it; it straddles two regions. I figure that the Southern Region decided to do its project independently of the Metro Region, and neither of them realized what the other was planning until the barricades went up. So, to save face, they decided to make their completely separate deals look like one big project. The only problem is that fifteen miles of single-lane driving gives motorists plenty of time to notice that the empty lane RIGHT NEXT TO THEM isn’t having anything done to it at all for five miles or so. Kind of a giveaway there, guys. Fifteen miles of single-lane driving also give motorists plenty of time to get worked up into a frenzied lather of rage. I speak from experience.

This is beyond irresponsible. It’s a disgrace. It's mortifying. It's unconscionable. I’ve driven during weekday rush hours on the freeways of Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, and I’ve never seen traffic as bad as it was on this Sunday afternoon in rural Minnesota. And all because the right hand doesn’t know which lane the left hand is closing down. This is beyond inconvenience and well into hazard.

I plan to write a strongly-worded letter to that effect to the two MN/DOT departments in question, possibly the county commissioners, and probably the Governor’s office. If you’re planning to spend any time at all on I-35 between Lakeville and Northfield this summer, you may want to do the same. Because “any time at all” is likely to become “a very large chunk of your life.” How large a chunk?

I drove fifteen miles in ninety minutes. I could have done that on foot.

posted by M. Giant 5:40 PM 0 comments


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