The Literal Road to Nowhere
I’ve said this before, but y’all need to stop moving here. Like, seriously. As the fastest growing state for the better part of a decade that doesn’t allow legalized prostitution, our infrastructure was never intended to accommodate this many people. The I-70 corridor that links metro Denver to the ski slopes and rec paths of Summit County where I now live becomes a virtual parking lot each and every weekend with folks heading out of their houses at ungodly hours of the morning trying to beat the traffic only to find themselves in an absolute standstill halfway up Floyd Hill. It’s unbearable. Even though I moved back up to Summit County from Denver largely to avoid that shit show, I find myself a part of it every other weekend as I drive down to Denver and back on Fridays to get my kids and then back down on Sundays to drop them off. So when the Colorado Department of Transportation announced several years back that they would be undergoing a lengthy and exhaustive construction project to add a toll lane in each direction, I, like many others, bit the bullet of the remarkable inconvenience such a project would mean in the near term and lauded the opportunity to avail ourselves of what was already a much-needed stop-gap solution. Many of us rejoiced about a year ago when that project finally wrapped up as it signaled the culmination of years of frustration and time spent idling away on a highway. But here we are nearly a year later, and I have just one piece of advice for the hardly beloved CDOT: the extra toll lane would work much better if it were actually open.
I drive to and from Denver far more frequently than I choose to recall, but damn if that highly touted express lane is ever actually open, even during the times with the highest congestion. The other day, as the kids and I were stuck in the usual, predictable Friday afternoon traffic trying to get up to the mountains, I looked over to my left to see a vast, open stretch of road going to absolutely no good use whatsoever. Why the hell did we spend all that time and money building a tolled express lane if it’s not even open and available on Friday and Sunday afternoons when everyone knows the traffic is just plain ridiculous?, I thought to myself as I sat at a dead standstill in the midst of I-70. Not only does this serve to frustrate drivers, it damages the environment through more idling cars and reduces the state coffers by relinquishing an otherwise easy revenue stream. After all, isn’t that how CDOT suggested they were going to pay for the project in the first place, using the tolls collected to offset the upfront expenditures related to the construction of the express lane? Ah, but I guess in the end they just would have used that toll money to build yet another road to nowhere.
Now, I am hardly a conspiracy theorist, but something about the absolutely absurdist nature of this indecipherable paradox resembles the existential futility of a Samuel Beckett play. It genuinely makes me wonder if the government is intentionally trying to sow discord and rancor in our society by ramping up the already pervasive frustration most Americans have been experiencing over the past couple of years. In fact, what if all of it- the supply chain issues, the work shortages, the government inefficiencies, the bloated bureaucracy- what if all of it is no more than an a diabolical government subterfuge intended to bring about the dreaded Civil War that a majority of Americans now believe is inevitable? Oh who am I kidding? Our government is far too disorganized and incompetent to ever pull off a contrivance that entailed.
For present purposes, I will set aside how that very notion alone should be taken as proof positive that all those government conspiracy theories regarding Covid and other latent government cover-ups circulating out there on social media are nothing more than harebrained lunacy, and stick to the underlying point here: that our government has become outrageously incapable of doing anything. Mired in layers of bureaucracy and inefficiency so thick that truly nothing ever gets done, we have lost our ability to use government as a vital instrument of getting anything done or built on a wide-scale basis. And that, my friends, is a huge fucking problem.
We used to be able to build things in this country. Not so much anymore. 99% of the 42,800 miles of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate Highways was constructed over a two decade period following the creation of the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1966. Now we can barely get an infrastructure bill passed to keep the damn things up and running. Think of how much of this country was designed, constructed, and implemented under FDR’s New Deal programs in the 1930’s. Bright and ambitious, we used strategic and informed leadership to transform our nation into a cultural landscape replete with many of the first world conveniences we have all come to take for granted. The Civilian Conservations Corps bored out tunnels, laid down pavement, and designed bridges that we still use today. Shoot, they built Red Rocks Amphitheater in 5 years from 1936-1941. These days, it takes that long to build a simple express lane 13 miles long.
Part of that problem is that we simply have too many cooks in the kitchen, too many mouths to feed in the increasingly greedy and corrupt construction business where too many pockets need to be lined just to get a project off the ground. Each involved party feels the need to put their own personalized stamp on a project and thus needlessly dilute the original intent of the work. But part of it too comes from our lack of ambition and will power. We’ve grown lazy and inefficient, usually the first signs that foreshadow the impending fall of the empire. And so we keep barreling down the road, a road leading to absolutely nowhere. But hey, at least we’re enjoying the ride.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com