Friday, December 08, 2017

COLUMN: Road Construction

Okay, Quad Cities. We need to talk.

I love our weird little neck of the woods where the river runs sideways and 7+ towns are somehow called "Quad"? The culture, the people, the attitude -- there's way worse places to call home. But I swear, if I see one more road construction sign pop up this season, I'm packing up my life and relocating somewhere that can keep their roads open for more than an hour or two in a row.

I can't think of a summer when road construction has been this obnoxious. Sure, Davenport had its moments last year, culminating in that weird stretch when we all got to drive the wrong way down Brady Street. But THIS year, it's as if Illinois took a look at Iowa and went, "Anything you can do, we can do better." And longer. And more aggravating.

I'm hard pressed right now to think of a major Illinois QC artery that hasn't been impacted by road construction this summer. The unending improvements on Avenue of the Cities have continued unabated. I can't even wrap my head around the nightmare of John Deere Road. We're only in the initial stages of I-74 bridge construction and downtown Moline's already a mess. And now the unthinkable has happened: the eastbound lane of Rock Island's Fifth Avenue is closed for business. This is thoroughly unacceptable.

I say this, of course, because that's the route I take to work every day, and as we all know, the road construction that matters the most is the road construction that impacts ME. I can only whine about the minutae of life to my cats for so long before I have to start taking it out on you people.

Honestly, I think I'm a fairly patient person. But this summer has been pushing it. It's not just the closure of eastbound Fifth Avenue that grinds my gears -- it's the ramifications of said closure. Traffic is now being routed to 7th Ave., turning it into a bumper-to-bumper hellscape like the beginning of "La La Land" but without the cheery song and dance numbers. Just when you think it can't get any worse, 7th Ave. rolls through the heart of Augustana College.

This is where it gets tricky for me. I'm an Augie alumni. I spent four years trying to navigating those 7th Ave. crosswalks, and it was often hairy. Cars can come barreling down that stretch like bats out of hell (and, in fact, a student got hit by a car earlier this year.) At night, those crosswalks are inadequately lit and a simple stroll to your dorm often turned into a death-cheating game of Frogger.

Of course, back then, I was a 20-year-old college student who knew everything and was going to live forever, so we'd dash around cars haphazardly and whine to each other about the knuckle-headed inconsiderate "townies" who just didn't understand life like we did. Now I AM one of those annoying townies, so I usually try my best to stop at each crosswalk and give my fellow Vikings a wide berth as they put their lives in my hands.

But I'm pretty sure there's a conspiracy afoot. Stopping for one or two students is no big deal. But the other day, I had to stop for 41 of them (yes, through clenched teeth I sat there and counted.) Every day, I head back to work at the precise moment the entire Augustana student body decides it's a fine time to have a mini-parade across those crosswalks. What's the world coming to? I'm starting to think that today's college students might actually be ATTENDING class. Weird, I know.

I'm sympathetic to the road construction cause, I really am. We live in a state where our entire budget is managed with all the finesse and thriftiness of a 4th grader's lemonade stand. When there's available funds for road construction, we need to take advantage before the money disappears. But can we just not repair absolutely everything at once, people?

For the longest time, I wasn't even sure what they were doing to poor Fifth Avenue. After all, I don't have time to become informed on the issues, I'm too busy waiting at crosswalks. But finally I learned that the closure is happening because Rock Island needs to re-route their emergency sewage flood drains. As it stands now, should our sewers back up, some of the more unspeakable contents could theoretically spill into the Mississippi, and I really don't think that's the kind of gift the citizens of Memphis are looking to see float downstream.

I'm all for cleaning up the river and beautifying our area. Well, until I reach the tenth bumper-to-bumper minute of watching smug college students strut in front of my car. At that point, I start to rationalize that maybe dumping gnarly toxins into the river isn't the WORST crime imaginable. Maybe it's just what Memphis deserves for choosing to stick their town downriver from ours.

I just wish there was a way these projects could work in tandem to not throw EVERYONE off their game all at once. Unless roads are buckling and potholes are eating cars whole, maybe we could just put a brief moratorium on any MAJOR optional projects until the new bridge is up and running? I'm sure there's a method to the madness, but it really feels like the construction traffic in downtown Bettendorf was designed by someone closing their eyes and throwing darts at a street map.

Last night, I watched a Youtube video of some UFO hunters in a 4x4 trekking through rocky desert for miles just to catch a distant glimpse at the legendary Area 51. It's a treacherous drive, but honestly, if my Hyundai can make it across whatever they're calling a "road" over by the iWireless Center, off-roading to Area 51 should be a piece of cake.

Better yet, Nevada UFO hunters, if you could sneak onto the base and ask those nice aliens to lend me a hand (or tentacle), that'd be swell. A flying saucer and a teleporter might be just what I need to NOT end up consistently five minutes late for work every morning.

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