We’ve shot monkeys into space, created a pizza with wieners in the crust and invented a security system that has kept whatever that thing is on top of Donald Trump’s head from biting anyone — surely a country with this type of technological knowhow can figure out a way to get a bridge built across the Mobile River by sometime next month.
It’s time to get cracking! If you haven’t tried making it back and forth between the Eastern Shore and Mobile lately then you might still think spending a billion bucks on a bridge is a huge waste of money when it could be better spent blowing up things in other countries. But if you’ve made the trek recently, it’s clear things are rapidly going from bad to worse.
I don’t think I’ve driven across the Causeway in the past couple of months when I couldn’t see traffic backed up on the Bayway. Before we get too far into this, I should probably define a couple of terms that sometimes confuse people. The Causeway, or Battleship Parkway as it is more formally known, is the road with the seafood restaurants, the battleship and all the people fishing. The Bayway, as we call it, is actually Jubilee Parkway, and it’s the part of Interstate 10 where people heading west are driving into Wallace Tunnel at 10 mph.
It used to be sort of enjoyable watching the suckers up on the Bayway crawling along at the same glacial pace as tax increase legislation in Montgomery. But now, the traffic’s gotten so bad people are coming off the Bayway and clogging up my precious Causeway. It’s now an emergency.
I know this isn’t a completely new phenomenon, but it has definitely become less of a “drive time” issue and more of an “all the time” issue. Things are no better for people heading east across the bay. Last Friday traffic on Government Street was backed up nearly to Broad by 11:30 a.m. That’s insanity.
The feds have long said this traffic snarl created by our George Wallace Tunnel, is the worst along I-10 from Jacksonville, Florida to La-la Land, California. Is it irony that a tunnel named for a man famed for trying to bar black students from entering the University of Alabama is known for barring traffic from freely crossing the Mobile River, or is that just an abuse of the term irony and a lame joke? Even if it is irony, correctly labeling the situation grammatically isn’t going to help any more Escalades and Smart Cars get through that tunnel each day, particularly if they’re black. OK, I’ll stop.
The plans for a new I-10 bridge are somewhat in flux, but what I’ve seen is impressive and huge. Getting funding together for such a massive structure — it would be one of the largest bridges in the Southeast — isn’t easy either. But we need it.
Mobile’s traffic already appears to be getting worse all the time. Airport Boulevard has long been known as the city’s most clogged artery, but there’s serious plaque buildup on Cottage Hill, on Dauphin near I-65 and now on Government Street. While I wouldn’t compare our traffic woes to what I witnessed living in Washington, DC, where I once thought about setting fire to my car after a two-hour trip to a Copeland’s restaurant three miles from my home, it’s pretty easy to see this city is becoming a harder and harder place to drive significantly above the speed limit.
Frankly when people who work in Mobile talk about moving to Baldwin County I wonder what other masochistic things they enjoy in private. Yes, things will get better once school is back in, but there’s almost no way to argue traffic is getting heavier and heavier. Most people who work in Mobile and live ESho make it a point to start trying to leave work sometime around 10:14 a.m. That’s good for productivity.
These days if I do venture onto the Bayway heading west I spend the entire time looking ahead for signs the jam is about to start. I’m not only afraid of getting caught on an elevated roadway with no way off in 1,000-degree heat, I’m also fearful I may lose it and start throwing fellow motorists over the side or hang myself as a warning to others. Road rage is a serious concern if things don’t get better.
Last Saturday, after some very irresponsible bar tending at the Nappie Awards, I was stuck in a horrible traffic jam on the Causeway while nursing a hangover so bad I should have had my own telethon. All I’m saying is I’m glad I left the M-16 and rocket launcher at home.
The estimates I’ve heard indicate building a new bridge will take anywhere from 8-12 years, so getting started is critical. While it would be nice to have bike paths and other points along the bridge where people could ascend and throw themselves into the river from 300 feet, if finding funding for those things is the holdup, maybe moving traffic needs to be the first concern.
I know there are still those who hold out hope high-speed ferries and monorails will ease the traffic, but those people may as well put their money on flying cars.
I would encourage anyone who still has doubts a new bridge is needed to run out and get in a traffic jam this weekend. Bring the dog and the kids. And if you really want to get the full effect, pound a lot of beers the night before. You’ll be begging for that bridge in a hurry.
To all the readers who responded so kindly to last week’s column about my brother Matt, thank you. Reading so many of your own stories about losing a loved one was very moving. Thank you all for reading and for sharing.