Gene's Blog: Gettin' around - of orange barrels, rotaries & diverging diamonds

Gene Mueller's blog

Okay, so who cheesed off the Wisconsin Department of Transportation?

Not since the days of the original Marquette Interchange re-do have Milwaukee area drivers found the second busiest confluence in the region so hard to use. The recent outburst of orange barrels and "lane closed" signs seems to have turned downtown into a walled city. Depending on which way you approach, you may want to trade in your SUV for a TFH--a Trojan Freakin' Horse. And, the re-decking of the High Rise that's the cause of the consternation isn't a mere patch job--this project will be with us through most of the summer, like mosquitos and FIBS.

Speaking of which, maybe now wasn't the best time for the Wisconsin Department of Economic Development to target Chicago millennials for a why-don't-you-move-up-here ad campaign, one that touts the virtues of our shorter commute times. Granted, what we're going through right now doesn't compare to a typical day on a construction-free Edens, Stevenson or Kennedy but seeing nothing but headlights from the Marquette south well into Milwaukee's southside  Friday AND Saturday nights seemed to make our easy-ride-in argument ring more than a little hollow. Plus, one of the things Windy City denizens in the targeted demo really seem to hate is owning a car, and they really, really love the "El" from which they can watch the daily traffic logjam on their way to and from work, bars and other places where they're known to roost.

Well, at least the Zoo Interchange is fini...oh, wait. Well, we always have the Hale Interch...oh, that's bunged up, too.

Some may blame our current dysfunction on the fact the region's Interstate system is way short of what was originally proposed. Oh, if we only had all those freeways planners spoke of in the 50's and early 60's. Had the Bay, Belt, Lake, Park, Stadium, and West Bend become part of the landscape, we'd have all manner of options and get-arounds to beat the current slog and those to come. More freeways, some could argue, would mean more options.

To quote "MASH" patriarch Colonel Sherman Potter, that's a lot of sheep dip. More pavement would only mean more construction because, as this noble Interstate experiment goes on in the United States, two things seem certain: freeways are perennially under repair, and they're never big/wide/long/ enough. We've created a system that is in a permanent state of "fix", leaving drivers in a constant state of "flux". Taxpayers pick up the tab, but we don't own the system. We get to use what the DOT decides to leave open starting late each winter. We've been taught to depend on it for easy daily ingress/egress only to--AHA!--have it taken away with the outbreak of orange barrels that pop up in the dark of night come March.

This isn't an indictment of the men and women who literally risk life and limb to finish these huge jobs. Far from it. Anyone who feeling sorry for themselves after a tough day in a warm, dry office need only look out the car window at the day-glo-clad folks busting a hump in the cold of a March night or waiting for the sun to finally set on a swampy August afternoon for the hard slap of self-awareness to sting the cheek or conscience.

No, this is what we've chosen. Streetcars and transit alternatives of old are long gone, the stuff of grainy photos and "Old Milwaukee" website posts. We've embraced the work-in-progress, never-quite-done Interstate system.

Well, at least all those fixes don't cost mu...oh, never mind.

As long as we're on a rant, have you seen what's in store in the Fox Valley? Wrap your heads around the Divergent Diamond Interchange!  It's the second one going up in the state, the first being in Janesville. They're meant to eliminate left turns across traffic--the traditional 'green arrow"--while greatly reducing the opportunities for cars to collide at major intersections. Having never encountered one, I'm only left to hope they work, and to ponder the concept which is best explained in this video.

Judging from social media friends in other states who'd lived with the DDI, they work. In a state like Wisconsin where we embrace change like a porcupine, it's a wait-and-see.

Just think "roundabout", the bane of old-school drivers who just won't accept the idea that a rotary intersection prevents potentially deadly t-bone crashes and injury accidents while enhancing traffic flow. Those are facts. The only problem with them is that they weren't around when our high school gym teacher was riding shotgun for 'behind-the-wheel' class in the 70's.

Damn you, change!

Good luck getting around this spring in these parts. Leave early. Pack patience. And, be willing to explore. Alternate routes are not only faster, they reduce stress and expose you to parts of the community you might not have seen since back in the day. There's a really cool city out there, between all of those orange barrels. Immerse yourself in it. Above all, don't give up on going out: all those merchants, businesses, taverns, bars, concert venues and theaters you love downtown need you now more than ever. Same in the 'burbs, where construction is also blossoming: those stores beyond the barrels and dug-up lanes are still open for business. They're worth getting to, and the folks who run them are guilty of nothing but having the misfortune of trying to survive along a red line drawn on a map in Madison.

We'll get through this. We always do. And, on the bright side, it'll all end when winter returns.

You're right. That's a load of sheep dip, too.





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