RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Don’t you just love these high-tech solutions to our traffic gridlock?
Driving home from Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, I have to admit I feared the worst. Two longer than expected meetings prevented departure from the Queen City until 3 p.m., which meant arrival in RTP around 5:15.
Just in time for the daily dance known as the Triangle Two Step. You know, two feet forward then stop.
“Let’s telecommute! Let’s distance-learn!” Those should be our battle cries.
Cruising toward Durham, all was well until just past 15/501. The highway is being widened, so the existing two lanes are as narrow as a Wild West wagon track. That’s bad enough.
But the real frosting on the bad-drive cake was the huge, modern electronic message board erected over I-40 at who knows how much expense that was flashing an astute warning.
“Slow traffic ahead. Expect Delays.”
Something like that.
How would you like to be the Department of Transportation employee monitoring all those spy cams along the road whose job it is to spot the daily jam-up then type such informative messages for display to all the hardly surprised drivers below?
The spy cams do serve the public good. They warn Triangle drivers through local TV just how bad the AM and PM commutes will be — and what the weather is like. They hopefully improve safety even if it’s a big brother approach.
But, in all candor, wouldn’t it have been better if DOT had spent more money on planning that would have prevented these traffic boondoggles in the first place?
How to brighten your day
At least the DOT folks could show some creativity. How about these messages:
“Got gridlock? You do now.”
“Count to 10. Patience to be tested.”
“Smile. You’re on gridlock cam.”
“Exit now. No rest stop for 10 miles — or two hours at current vehicle speed.”
“If you think this jam is bad, try driving in Atlanta.”
“A boost to Triangle pride: Charlotte traffic can’t compare to this.”
“Have a nice day.”
“Hope you have had a nice day. We just ruined it.”
“Your supper is getting cold.”
“We’re so sorry. Your friendly DOT regrets that our planning and political bickering over mass transit vs. more lanes has led to unanticipated delays in I-40 widening and therefore the lost time in productivity being experienced by you and your fellow commuters today. We hope to have three lanes and improved exit capacity just in time for when our projections indicate four lanes and wider feeder roads will be needed to meet the demands of increasing Triangle growth.”
For those of you reading who might not be familiar with Triangle traffic, thank your Maker you aren’t. We know other cities have problems, too. We share your pain.
Telecommute? Yes, please
Some progress — another version of the Two Step — is being made. For example, RTP industry leaders and politicians gather routinely to discuss how to deal with the mess. Many people read The News & Obsever’s weekly “Road Worrier” for a laugh and a dose of warnings. A lot of folks telecommute — or pray that they could get the permission of the boss to do so. And discussions about more busses and “light” rail continue. But who really expects the masses to head for mass transit?
The addition of I-540 which intersects I-40 west of RDU and runs across North Raleigh is redirecting some of the load. Still, what a mess is created when AM traffic outbound from Raleigh to RTP tries to blend with that on I-40. And the race from Durham Expressway east to merge onto I-40 and then fight into the right-hand lanes to get onto 540 East to get home is a sight to behold — and avoid from about 4:45-6:30 p.m.
My apologies for the rant. But my frustration just boiled over when I saw that silly message on that stupid sign and thought — for the 1,000 time — how short-sighted it is that the high-tech Triangle is so dependant on one stretch of narrow road that backs up faster than lines in a Florida polling booth on primary election day.
Next time I need to go to Charlotte, I’ll ask the boss if I can’t just videoconference.
Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.