Sunday, May 17, 2015

Back to Ohio: Why do the Roads in Central Ohio Suck so Badly?

There was a common joke I heard in my youth, that the state flower of Ohio was the orange construction barrel. Every spring, the barrels would spring up, complicating any work commute in every direction. When I moved to Las Vegas in the early nineties, I realized that it's not a geographic thing, particularly. For the entire two decades I lived in the Vegas valley, I don't remember a time when Interstate 15 didn't have construction somewhere along its stretch through town.

Upon my return to Ohio this year, I had another revelation. There are huge differences between these two places as to what's going on behind those barrels. In Las Vegas, if there is a choke point on a highway, they fix it. If there is too much traffic trying to join or exit a freeway ramp on a daily basis, they build new interchanges, either replacing the existing exits, or adding new ones at different intersections. Complicated pinch points yield astonishing changes, like fly-overs, superstreet intersections, criss-crossing (and high-flying) ramps, extending and expanding roads that were previously inadequate, access roads, express lanes, and other improvements. Yes, Vegas still has The Spaghetti Bowl, and the Rainbow Curve--nobody's perfect--but by-and-large, if a section of town experiences terrible traffic, NDOT goes to great lengths to find a solution, and usually a quick one.

Not in Ohio. Sure, there have been changes. During my 20 year absence, State Route 161 was rerouted and expanded (with the efforts of Limited owner, Les Wexner), I-670 was completed as something of an innerbelt from Downtown Columbus to the Airport (it peters out in the suburb of Gahanna). I'm sure there have been other improvement projects (I saw a novel interchange at Roberts Road and west I-270, for example), and roundabouts have sprung up in both logical and unnecessary locations. Roundabouts seem to be a prestige thing for some reason, even in Las Vegas. But there are a distressing number of congested areas that are absolutely inadequate, and were inadequate in 1990, 1980, 1970.

Many of the freeway exits and junctions, for example, are of the original design: cloverleafs. They force drivers to cross each other, often requiring not only cooperation with other drivers (yeah, right), but also snap decisions. One in particular, at I-270 and State Route 3, allows almost no time to complete the maneuver. It's been that way since it was built. Traffic jams abound, and need have no other cause beyond competing drivers trying to cross each other to exit and enter.

Getting off the freeway, things can be just as bad on surface streets. Traffic jams can happen anywhere, at any time, and have no obvious cause. I can't tell you how many times I've found myself driving on a major road, and having to make a snap decision, because my lane is coming to a sudden surprise end or "turn only." Attempting to drive about three miles down State Route 256 (a major road), I had to change lanes three times to continue south, and this occurred no matter which lane
you're travelling in. Going through the town of New Albany (Les Wexner's baby), there are sequential intersections where through travel requires shifting lanes twice, neither particularly intuitive. I find this all over the place, left lane, right line, or middle lane (if there is one). Even in prestigious areas like Grandview Heights.

And while I'm on a rant, I'll point out that this is a state of few legal U-turns, and many intersections with signs that say, "No turn on red, except curb lane." Both of these things cause traffic tie-ups, the former because it forces drivers to make snap decisions, and the latter because many Ohio drivers are clueless, and read the sign as simply "No turn on red." That's a problem that funding roads can't fix, I suppose. Many Ohioans can't properly yield either, whether at roundabouts (something that I admittedly had problems with at first), or on continuous turn lanes. People in Ohio are also permitted to talk on the phone while driving without the assistance of Bluetooth, which is a huge traffic issue, just from my own observations.

But because of these side-issues about the driving-challenged in Ohio, improved infrastructure is just that much more important. And it's not getting done. I just wonder why. Yes, it's expensive. But it's important. I'd also like to point out that in Las Vegas, we had no city tax, no state tax, and property tax that was about 1/3 the amount in central Ohio. With all of this extra cash at their disposal, where does the tax money go in Ohio? Sure, those orange barrels are out all over the place, so clearly a lot goes to fixing the existing roads after the harsh winter destruction every year.  But here we are in the middle of May, and every excursion out of my house in Reynoldsburg is like a driving obstacle course. So, even that isn't getting done at a very rapid clip.

It's a daily aggravation, for me. I can only assume that your average Ohioan has come to accept the status quo as "just the way things are." When stuck in a traffic jam on East Broad Street out in the relative boonies of Blacklick to Pataskala at 2pm on an odd Saturday, they must just shrug, and think, "it's always been this way." But it doesn't have to be! I've seen it done better! There are many things about my Vegas experience I could bitch about, but attention to infrastructure isn't one of them. Why does Ohio allow this woefully inadequate condition to go on indefinitely?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have something to say to us? Post it here!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...