As my kids are now firmly in their teens, I try as often as possible to impart important life lessons. Some are pretty simple — “Shut the door when you’re peeing!” Others are meant to sink in over time and come in handy later in young adulthood — “Don’t let your last words be ‘Hold my beer and watch this!’”
But perhaps the piece of fatherly advice that passes my lips most often these days as my son begins driving is, “Do not, under any circumstances, ever get on the Bayway!”
OK, OK, I’ll admit there are times it’s not massively dumb to try to drive across the Jubilee Parkway, the technical name of the long, raised Interstate 10 roadway connecting Mobile and Baldwin counties. Between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3:45 a.m. it’s not completely likely you’ll end up in a traffic jam as long as it’s not raining. But certainly while the sun is shining it’s a risk, and thinking you’ll sail smoothly across during daytime hours on the weekend is a fool’s errand.
None of this is news, of course. We all know these things like we know how to peel a crawfish. But locals still roll the dice every day and end up sitting on the seemingly endless stretch of concrete, waiting for people from Texas, Louisiana and Florida to drive through the Wallace Tunnel at 45 mph honking their horns and holding their breath.
A local man’s best friend perfectly accented the frustration with the Bayway this past weekend. According to news reports, Al Trovinger was trying to get across the Bayway on Sunday when — of course — he ended up stuck in a traffic jam caused by a wreck. After sitting for half an hour, he decided to let his dog, River, out to stretch her legs and River did exactly what every one of us has thought about doing in that situation. She flung herself over the railing into the water below.
Trovinger watched his 3-year-old dog swim around under the bridge, but without direction he was afraid she’d drown, so he jumped over too. A heroic act, no doubt, but one that would have been completely unnecessary if someone somewhere would get off their duff and finally build the I-10 bridge we’ve been yakking about for the past 15 years.
I’m not going to give Trovinger a tough time because he had to relearn a lesson he already knew the hard way: Take the Causeway, Al. I’m sure River was sitting there beside you when you got on the Bayway thinking, “What the hell is he doing?! It’s Sunday! Sunday on the Bayway, are you crazy?! We’ll be stuck for at least an hour! That’s like seven hours for me!”
It’s sad to think River was willing to brave drowning and alligator attacks to get off the boiling hot Bayway. Truthfully, though, it wasn’t much better down on the Causeway — or Battleship Parkway, to road snobs. A terrible boating accident had the overflow from the Bayway rubbernecking and making the trip back to Mobile nearly impossible. But at least there was the option to have a cold beer.
Making the trip back and forth to Orange Beach this past weekend was one where you needed to pop a few of grandpa’s blood pressure pills. Traffic was so bad going over on Saturday I even resorted to the dreaded “backroads” tactic in hopes of sneaking around the congestion. I’m sure my father telepathically sensed my use of his favorite move and smiled like Yoda.
But it didn’t work. Sure, Highway 31 was fine, but when I headed south on 181 to get on I-10 there was a completely senseless traffic jam that made a one-mile trip take 20 minutes. And then it was an interstate crawl all the way to the Baldwin Express exit anyway.
There’s really no reason to explain much more as I’m certain everyone reading this has been through the same exact situation.
For the better part of 20 years we’ve been hearing about how the Wallace Tunnel is the worst pinch point on I-10’s entire route from Jacksonville to Los Angeles. And we’ve heard a million times it’s a “priority” for the federal government to rectify that problem. Still, one year after another flips by and nothing concrete ever happens. (Yes, that’s a bridge pun. My dad is smiling like Yoda again.)
There are even more condominiums being built along the Gulf, which means more and more people joining in the traffic jam. Some like to dismiss the traffic issues as not being as bad as in big cities like Atlanta, but I’m not certain aspiring to be mentioned in the same breath as the worst snarl in the entire Southeastern U.S. should be our benchmark for getting serious about this problem.
Any of you who have experience with Destin, Florida have already seen where all this goes. Even 15 years ago it was a 45-minute trip to a restaurant five miles away in Destin. Honestly, I never even consider going there anymore because of the congestion.
Baldwin and Mobile are headed in that same direction if something isn’t done. Even people just trying to drive through now recognize the Mobile/Baldwin area as a total cluster. The bridge needs to be built and I-10 six-laned all the way to the Florida line. That’s my take as an esteemed traffic engineer. We already have dogs and men jumping off the Bayway. What are we waiting for? Cats and old ladies? Is that what it’s going to take to get something done?
Perhaps the only way to ever get the ball rolling on this thing is to get the state and federal people with all the money to get in a nice, hot 1972 VW bus and try to drive from Mobile to Orange Beach at 3 p.m. on a Friday. They can even bring their dogs as long as they’re wearing canine life preservers. I bet the money would flow quickly.
This snarl of cars is actually changing our way of life and part of what makes this such a cool place to live. Gone are the days of making that quick run down to the Gulf. I’m waiting for Baldwin County’s next tourism marketing campaign to be “Come for the beaches. Stay because there’s no way you can get out.”
If the feds aren’t going to cough up the money for the bridge anytime soon, maybe they could at least spring for some minor improvements to the Bayway — diving boards.
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