Mark Franke: Ubiquitous road hazards


Like nearly every other red-blooded American, I have dreamt about get-rich-quick schemes, but to no avail.

I wish I had been the genius who figured out he could take free water, bottle it and then sell it at three bucks a crack. I also was too late with hula hoops, slinkies, soap-on-a-rope and pet rocks.

Genius is 99% perspiration and only 1% inspiration, if Thomas Edison is to be believed. I’ve paid my dues in perspiration and finally reached the 1% point as a can’t-miss idea hit me the other day while driving on the interstate.

I propose to secure the state highway department contract to supply those orange barrels that are everywhere. And I mean literally everywhere.

Try driving on any stretch of interstate highway without having to merge into a single lane of traffic because the other lane is blocked off by orange barrels. Note that I didn’t mention construction zones. There are a lot of those, too, but the ubiquitous barrels don’t need any construction project to show up unannounced.

That is perplexing in itself. The interstate that runs along my hometown has a lane closed off for miles with orange barrels and no work going on. Nor is there any obvious need for road work in that stretch.

When there is bona fide road work to be done, why does it take so long? One very busy intersection near my house has two lanes of traffic approaching from all four directions and with left turn lanes for each.

All summer, traffic has been reduced to one lane in each direction as vehicles are funneled into orange barrel tunnels. It might take three or four lights to get through. This is a real construction site but with only infrequent work going on. The “Men Working” cautionary signs should be changed to “Men Working … Tomorrow … Maybe.”

So how do all these barrels get there? One almost wonders if they are dropped randomly by alien spaceships at night. If a Twilight Zone explanation won’t work, then they have to be manufactured somewhere. Has anyone seen the massive plant required to produce so many of them? Are all of the plant’s workers sworn to secrecy? I certainly have never met someone who admitted to building those things.

I have nightmares about waking up to find half of my driveway blocked off by orange barrels.

There is money to be made here, and now, I need to figure out how to get some of the action. These being political contracts, my cynical inner self tells me to become an in-law of the governor or mayor. My wife will probably veto my doing that personally, but I have dozens of cousins. Surely one of them has an available grandchild we can use as marriage material to improve the family fisc.

I shouldn’t be flippant about this situation. All of the lane closures, interstate merges and road closures have a deleterious effect on our driving safety.

A neighbor was trying to enter an interstate reduced to one lane from an entrance ramp shortened and with poor visibility. Trying to figure out whether to speed up or slow down to merge or to stop entirely if oncoming traffic wouldn’t allow her in was one of those split-second decisions no one wants to make. She ended up clipping a barrel to avoid a collision. I don’t need to mention the body shop bill for that. At least she wasn’t hurt.

Driving has become more dangerous, and it’s not all due to the orange barrels. Two friends have had their cars totaled by drivers who ran red lights. Fortunately, neither suffered major injuries, but what is going on? Why are we seeing more of this sort of thing? Are people not paying attention or do they just not care about traffic laws?

One more example: I nearly was run down at a pedestrian crossing on a corner with a four-way stop. I noticed the speed of the approaching car and determined its driver had no intention of stopping. I would have been in the legal right but also in the hospital.

At my age, I remember less and less, but I do recall the emphasis placed on defensive driving in my driver’s ed class. It was a required class for us ninth-graders at the township school. The course is no longer required, and that township school has been demolished. So much for educational advancement.

If I have been unfair to governmental highway departments, road construction companies or school curriculum designers, I apologize. But the problem is real and probably rests with self-indulgent drivers who are focused on their own convenience (or their cellphones), and the other guy be damned.

After that last sentence, I probably should apologize again, but I don’t think I will.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected].

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