Most of us don’t think about traffic. We just deal with it. It’s part of life. Whether it’s trying to find a parking space or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a holiday weekend, traffic is everywhere.

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I don’t usually think about traffic these days because we don’t have much. This is the country. A traffic jam is a tractor and two cars at an intersection. Road repairs. An annoying slow driver. A bridge washes out.

Until we moved here, though, traffic was the single biggest issue controlling our lives. Road work in Boston made it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock during holidays effectively closed the city.

When we lived in downtown Boston, one Friday in December, Garry asked me to pick him up at work. He had packages to carry.

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I left the parking lot, drove a block, and stopped. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I still hadn’t moved. I u-turned and went home. It was pre-cell phones, so I called the guard at the front desk at Channel 7, asked him to tell Garry I couldn’t get there.

The next day it was in the papers and on TV — Boston was gridlocked. It was the Friday before Christmas. Everyone had decided to go shopping. No one went anywhere.

A year later, we moved to Roxbury, just outside the city center. It was less congested. You could park for free on the street.

Along came the Big Dig, aka the Central Artery-Tunnel Project. It was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning almost every road in, out, around, and through Boston. It changed the main artery (Route 93) —  an ugly stretch of permanently clogged elevated highway — into a permanently clogged tunnel.

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It didn’t solve the traffic problems, but it made traffic invisible. On the plus side, it straightened out some of the city’s worst intersections and made getting to and from the airport easier.

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. Plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses, design flaws, poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for some offenders (but not enough) and 4 deaths, the project was scheduled for completion in 1998 and was supposed to cost $2.8 billion. It was officially finished in December 2007 and cost $14.6 billion.

The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest, fines, and lawsuits, the project will cost more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until 2038. Maybe not even then.

The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me 2 hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!” And we did.

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We fled. Traffic was controlling our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood was often closed. Out-of-town visitors roamed helplessly through the streets of Dorchester looking in vain for a street sign or marker. Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home.

I spent years of my life in traffic. The time I spent at work plus 2 to 4 hours of commuting, my life was dominated by traffic. By the time we slouched into retirement, we were wrecks.

Do I have a solution? No. But I know that commuting and the constant traffic wore us out. One day, we snapped. We couldn’t do it anymore.

Funny thing about traffic. You may not notice it when you live with it every day, but if suddenly, it isn’t a major factor in your life, it’s a whole, new world. A far better world.

LIVING IN GRIDLOCK

10 thoughts on “LIVING IN GRIDLOCK

  1. The Big Dig sounds like a UK government construction or IT project. Does nobody in government ever stop to wonder how the lowest bidder, at 50% cheaper than everyone else, is actually going to deliver?
    Traffic here is hotting up as summer approaches (Cornwall is a huge tourist destination), though the main problem at the moment is still tractors.

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    • They know. It’s all kick backs and payoffs. They KNOW they aren’t going to deliver the project on time (or as specified) … but as along as they get their piece of the pie, they are happy. I used to think this was just me being paranoid, but I’ve since learned that I’m not nearly paranoid enough.

      It doesn’t take a lot of traffic in small towns to be a problem. Not when your roads are 2 lanes or even less!

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      • Some of the roads into work are just wide enough for two lanes (one each way) and Cornwall is famous for its high hedges – it can get quite hairy sometimes 🙂

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        • I remember having to back up to the nearest pull off area — or the other car had to. I was on vacation, so no hurry, but I can imagine it getting a bit complicated if you actually have to get somewhere on time. Kind of like a dance the cars do on meeting.

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  2. You should see what it’s like in Tunisia. I think they only have one street light in the whole country. You have traffic jams that include tractors, horse drawn carts, pedestrian and then there are the cars.
    It would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.
    Leslie

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  3. I know very little of traffic, living in a little town in KS. Kind of like you, a traffic jam is when there’s a tractor or combine blocking the way and a few cars are trailing behind. My sister lives in a bigger city, and while there are definitely traffic problems there, nothing like Boston, from the sounds of it. I’m happy for you that you were able to get out and stop having your life controlled by it. Sounds miserable!

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    • We are generally pretty okay with traffic, aside from the ubiquitous slow drivers … but being out in the middle of nowhere means a lot of driving to other places for services, shopping, etc. It’s always a trade.

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  4. I knew that big dig was going on many years ago. So I found out more about it now. What a mess. I’m so glad you got out of the big city. I know we hate going to Portland, our big city. Traffic is nothing compared to Boston. I like my little town of Canby. Rush hour means 5 people waiting instead of one or two.

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    • The Big Dig was a nightmare. It’s over officially, but Boston is permanently under constructions and it’s an old city — narrow streets, bad intersections, bridges under constant repair. Glad we only have to go there for doctors visits and the occasional event (concert next September, yay).

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