Cumberland Times-News

Columns

October 19, 2013

There is only one punishment for this

How close I came to making it through, I’ll never know. I couldn’t have missed it by more than a couple of minutes, if that.

I could see where I needed to be, but it might as well have been 200 miles away, instead of 200 yards.

What did me in? Was it having to wait two or three minutes for a gap in the traffic before I could get out of my driveway?

Was it the stoplight in Keyser or the stoplights in Cresaptown?

I don’t think I stopped to get gas, but that would have done it.

Was it the school bus I followed that stopped every hundred yards or so for a mile or so before it finally pulled over?

I hate the strobe lights they put on top of those things. Flash-flash, flash-flash, flash-flash, and on and on and on until your eyes go in and out of focus, your ears begin to ring and everything from the top of your head on down starts to twitch.

Could it have been the guy who wanted to go 48 in a 55-mph zone and had cars backed up behind him for half a mile, including mine?

Any of these things could have done it. If I had missed even one of them ...

If this, if that, if ... .

If “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts, oh, what a jolly Christmas we would have. If the dog hadn’t stopped to do what he did, he would have caught the rabbit ... and so on.

“If” is the biggest word in the English language and also the most meaningless.

I was approaching the bottom of the hill that goes up to the intersection of Route 220 and Interstate 68 when I saw the cars ahead of me start to slow down and stop.

I made it about a third of the way up. Not knowing what lay beyond, I left enough room behind the car ahead of me so I could pull out and turn around if I had to.

From what I could tell, the source of the problem was right there where the new partial- / semi- / quasi- / pseudo-roundabout lies.

It’s what I call the question mark-about because that’s how it’s shaped, and because it makes you ask things like “What the ... ?” “Who the ...?” “Why the ...?” and “How damn much did this ... ?” (The answer to the last one is about $3.8 million.)

We waited, and then we waited some more.

Finally, way up there at the head of the line, a fellow in a fluorescent safety vest came walking down over the hill.

He talked briefly to the driver in one car, and then to a school bus driver, and then to someone in another car — by which time the driver of the first car had begun to back up so he could turn around to go back the way he and I and all the rest of us came from.

“James,” I said to myself, “that is your cue to come 180 degrees about and go through LaVale.”

By the time I was headed back toward Cresaptown and the road that goes to LaVale and eventually to Interstate 68 eastbound, the traffic was backed up almost to the Bowling Green Fire Hall.

The trip to I-68 passed without incident, but then I began to wonder what else lay ahead of me.

There are times when, because of all the construction that has been going on for months and seems like it never will be finished, eastbound traffic has been restricted to one lane going through Cumberland.

It’s never pleasant to be involved in this. I’ve been going west and seen eastbound traffic virtually stopped on I-68 as far back as the cut through Haystack Mountain. That’s a long way.

If you come in to Cumberland northbound on Route 220 at such times, you can either take your chances that someone will let you out onto eastbound I-68, or  go down Dingle Hill and drive through Cumberland.

This puts you on Greene Street, which is never a good choice, because you may spend more time sitting at traffic lights than you do driving.

It’s also cratered so badly with potholes and bad pavement that you almost feel like you’re in a bomber flying through a flak barrage.

That’s why I would turn left at the bottom of Dingle Hill to take Washington Street downtown. However, the upper part of Washington Street is in even worse shape than Greene Street. So I would get creative ... but that’s another story.

On this particular day, my fears were never realized. Traffic was moving normally eastbound on I-68, and I made it to the newspaper without further incident.

No cars whatsoever were coming up onto I-68 from Route 220, so I figured the problem was still ongoing. Still, I had wasted about half an hour of my life.

The tieup happened when — no fooling — a State High Administration truck equipped with a snowplow clipped one of the concrete walls that narrows the northbound section of the questionmark-about to the point where you have to choose between making a zigzag that appears out of nowhere or running across a small apron-like structure.

Nobody should blame the SHA driver who ran afoul of the wall. Trying to get a large, snow plow-equipped vehicle through such a narrow, convoluted causeway must be like trying to shoot pool with a rope.

I have tried to figure out what the traffic pattern will be when this thing is finally finished and inflicted upon the motoring public, but it gives me a headache. Something tells me I might be better off taking the long way back to Keyser on I-68 through LaVale.

This was supposed to have been a do-over to fix something nobody liked. Usually when folks get a do-over, they make the most of it.

Not this time.

From what I can tell, the people who are responsible for the actual construction have done a professional job.

The same cannot be said of those who designed and approved it.

My wish for them is that they should have drive to work for at least one hour every day behind a school bus that stops every hundred yards or so, never pulls over to let traffic past and has a strobe light that keeps going Flash-flash, flash-flash, flash-flash ... .

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