Commentary by Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press: Why does there have to be, every summer, major construction on the roads around here? Why does seemingly every highway and often the same major boulevards require annual destruction and reconstruction?
I sit. I sigh. I crane my neck and scan the windshield. All I see is a horizon full of stuck cars and the most hated color of summer.
Orange. As in barrels.
Every year it is the same thing. The weather gets warm. We finally leave our driveways without a snowplow. We take a turn, ready to hit the open roads and ...
Bang! Orange barrels.
We reach the highway, windows open, maybe the top down, ready to feel the warm air whipping through our hair, and ... Bang! Orange barrels.
Summer should be renamed "Merge." Highways should offer valet parking. There are, once again, more lanes closed than open. It is as regular as the tide. As annoying as ants. As endless as paying taxes.
My simple question is: Why?
Why does there have to be, every summer, major construction on the roads around here? Why does seemingly every highway and often the same major boulevards require annual destruction and reconstruction?
Why do I find myself, year after year, slowed to a stop in a sea of cars, looking out the window and wondering, "What if I never move any farther than this? Do I have to live here now? This patch of road? Do I send for my family? Can I get mail here?"
Before anyone official answers, before the folks from government agencies dash off notes about the value of these important projects, or the difficulties of a cold-weather city, or the actual statistics that show it's not EVERY year that Telegraph Road gets ripped apart (even if it feels that way), before anyone does that, please, as I scream at the dashboard every afternoon:
LET. ME. VENT.
If only because it makes me feel better.
Why, Road Construction People, if you are working on an area that is 50 feet long, do you need to start merging traffic 9 MILES AWAY?
Why, if these projects are so vital, are so many of them WITHOUT HUMAN BEINGS ON THE JOB?
Why, if potholes are such a predictable problem, can't we come up with concrete or asphalt that actually RESISTS THEM FOR MORE THAN A YEAR? For heaven's sake, we drill for oil miles below the sea, and there's never a problem with —
Back to venting. Why can't crews work from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., pick up their barrels, and come back the next night? You know, when there's NO RUSH HOUR?
Why isn't there some OFFICIAL RULE as to when you shift lanes, so we don't have some people merging the moment they see "Road Construction Ahead" signs and others zooming in the soon-to-be-closed lane until they nearly crash into a crane, then glaring if you don't let them in?
Why is this the 10th time I'm asking these questions?
Now, I'm sure folks around the country think their area is the worst for roadwork. But it seems we in Michigan may be justified in our whining. A recent trucker survey rated the roads in our state the second-worst in the country. A website devoted to urban planning labeled Telegraph one of the 10 Worst Streets in North America, calling it a "scar upon the Earth."
That's harsh. Maybe the writer was stuck in traffic. That's what happens when you let people stare at a street for hours.
Look. It would be one thing if this happened once every 10 years. Even every five years. But summer after summer, the calendars are dotted with closings of ramps, bridges, lanes and boulevards. Piles of dirt take over the landscape. Cement is king. Heavy machinery rules the roads.
And those who yearn for carefree summers can only dream about the days when we used to step on the gas pedal, not the brake, and the only barrels were the ones filled with beer.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.