Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Highway of Dreams

It'd be funny -- as I'm sure it is to the rest of the country -- if it wasn't so sad, ugly, expensive, arrogant, wasteful, and stupid.

I mean, of course, Durango's enormous new partially constructed -- and, we learned last week, absolutely worthless -- highway overpass and its surrounding traffic-strangling construction zone on US 160 east of town. This metal and concrete monstrosity spans the highway like the swollen leg of some out-of-context roller coaster, someday to swoosh traffic downward to smoothly merge with the highway and siphon cars and trucks off the highway and up onto the mesa south of the road.

The reason for such an elaborate traffic contraption in a wee backwoods community like Durango was that CDOT had decreed that US 550 -- gateway to Farmington -- needed a rerouting from the long, steep cut in the side of Florida Mesa that leads that north-south traffic down to its confluence with the east-west-running US 160.

Which is fine. But CDOT, in its manic road-building madness assumed it would acquire the land required to, well, connected the new span with the present highway. Now it seems the landowner in that path ain't too happy with the idea.

Seems it now ain't gonna' happen ...

Last week, the Durango Herald reported that CDOT now admits the the overpass will never connect. Still, no mere waste nor foolishness will stand in the way of the Highway Builders! The project,says CDOT, is going ahead with ints next phase, need be damned!

So far, the project has cost $35 million, including $4 million received from the federal government's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Meanwhile, the Durango 9R school district is laying off 19 teachers and staff ...

Maybe they can get jobs flagging for the new Durango Ornamental Overpass.

But, CDOT assures us, it won't go to waste. "It will serve its function in providing access to U.S. 160 for those north of the highway," says the Herald story. (I assume it means "south of the highway," otherwise the overpass has some other problems. Which, I suppose, wouldn't be a complete surprise.) Which means it's only a small exaggeration to say this $40-million-plus bridge will serve, like, seven people (who have already said they don't want the bridge) and six thousand cattle.

Seems appropriate to me that this item appeared on the front page of our local paper on the 20th anniversary of the release of the movie "Field of Dreams," and its culturally embedded catchphrase, "If you build it, they will come."

Exactly.

Because that is exactly -- I mean aside from its Hell-bent money-wasting land-ravaging road-building mania (see also: Pass, Wolf Creek) -- my gripe against CDOT: If you build it, they will come.

See one of the things that led my wife and I to throw out our anchor and set up our lifetime base camp here in the Four Corners was one interesting fact: It’s about as far away as you can get from an interstate in the continental U.S. That’s changing, though. Even if there's no official designation, you can now follow a nearly a defacto interstate from Albuquerque to Salt Lake City.

Why don't we embrace the fact that the Four Corners is remote. And that most of us like it that way. That that's a valued characteristic. That in the future, as we evolve into new economies, that may be its greatest asset. That it's a condition that will serve us and our kids in the future.

Toward that end, I have a modest proposal: I’d like to see CDOT become simply a fleet of ten thousand pickups with dirt and shovels in the back.

The department will hire anyone who wants and needs a job -- a great way to support high school kids, ski bums, off-season river rats, anyone else who just wants to make few bucks to get to work out of doors. Then they'll just ... drive around, look at the scenery, pick up trash, help wayfaring strangers and RVs bedazzled by what will ultimately become an increasingly degraded series of roads over time, a process of road-to-trail evolution that will only be minimally mitigated by the labor of these CDOT employees in pick ups shoveling loose dirt and asphalt into the decaying pavement -- as the Western Slope of Colorado blossoms in a new cultural revolution linked directly to its return to its status as a hard-to-get-to place.

And someday our kids will take their kids out for a walk along the highway-turned-bikepath that rises from the old highway in a marvelous structure that swoops up onto the wooded mesa above -- an lasting monument to a time when people didn't know any better.

Now that's my kind of field of dreams.

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This post also appears on InsideOutsideMag.com. Check it out!
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