Whenever you have an especially good thing going, trouble is sure to pop up and spoil whatever patch of tranquility it was you were enjoying. Then, most of the time at least, the problem gets solved, and once again you’re in God’s favor.
This is a Rule of Life, and it exists in order to instruct us not to take for granted the good things in life.
I’m reminded of this precept pretty much every day lately as I drive around town to meetings and errands. I suspect I’m not alone in this realization because there are droves and lines and throngs of other drivers around me, all experiencing the same construction-related delays, frustrations, and detours.
As residents of central Illinois, we love to point out to our big-city cousins that we don’t have to spend 60 percent of our nonworking, waking hours mired in hopeless traffic jams. But the truth is, we rarely think about the relative ease with which we zip around town. We factor it in and take it for granted that a cross-town trip is a mere 10 minutes or so. We’re almost always right.
Now the brake shoe is on the other foot.
Maybe it’s only fair that we should see how the majority lives. Aside from annual holiday backups at Northwoods Mall, we have little experience with real traffic jams. Who’d have thought we’d see westbound Interstate 74 traffic motionless from the Forrest Hill overpass all the way back to the University Street exits? Anyone for Madison to Monroe—via Southtown? I’m discovering streets I’ve never traveled and whole neighborhoods I never knew existed. I guess that’s good, although residents may not find the increased traffic exactly congenial.
I don’t mean to be flippant or minimize the trouble involved, but my perspective on local traffic has changed. I’ve just returned from a trip to China. Shanghai’s teeming, chaotic streets—where every possible sort of vehicle and bicycle is going in every possible direction regardless of pedestrians or any other obstacle—make our current problems seem trivial.
Nevertheless, according to IDOT we have yet to see the worst. If you think this traffic is bad, just wait.
As we all know, most of our current traffic woes are related to the re-engineering of I-74 through Peoria and East Peoria. No one who’s lived in these parts for long will argue the work isn’t necessary. A quick visit to the helpful, thorough Web site at www.upgrade74.com tells us why. Surprisingly, the 40-year-old I-74 was never built as an interstate. Some local segments have more than double the statewide accident rate (as if we needed reminding). Due to be completed in December 2006, the upgrade will include completely new pavement, overpasses, lighting, safer ramps, and improved landscaping. We’re trusting our newly elected officials that the promises for completion will continue on schedule.
And with a total cost that will exceed $400 million, it’s the largest road reconstruction in downstate history. A lot of those dollars will go into the local economy, providing a shot in the arm just when we can use it. That’s a positive.
It occurs to me that there are only two sane ways to react to the snarls and rerouting we’re about to undergo: you can be a dove or you can be a hawk. Doves kick back and wait out the delays relaxing, say, to some favorite music (recommended: classical from WCBU, or a holiday CD to make our spirits bright). Hawks, on the other hand, spend hours each night poring over street maps, devising ever more devious alternate routes to bypass the next morning’s construction.
Whichever camp you choose, please heed a little advice from the safety mavens. To sum it up in a word: patience. More cars plus fewer lanes equals reduced margin for error. Heavier traffic can turn an ordinary mistake from a near miss into a tragedy.
And if I may offer a little advice of my own: when you’re delayed in traffic, please don’t automatically reach for the cell phone. Yes, it’s only polite to call your associate or the kids to alert them you’ll be late. But with abrupt starts and stops and construction crews just inches from your vehicle, fumbling with the phone is the last thing we need. Pull off the road and make your call safely.
We may not notice the lives that will be saved by a re-engineered I-74. Who notices tragedies that never happen? One thing’s for certain: once this is over, we’ll never complain about Peoria traffic again. And it sure beats Shanghai traffic, where it’s typical to spend 45 minutes traveling six blocks.
Happy motoring. Happy Holidays. IBI