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Seeing red


Judith Murphy December 24th, 2008

I am a reasonable person. I wait patiently for the outcome of things I cannot control. I understand that major changes take time. That said, I have begun to see red at the sight of orange " the orange...

I am a reasonable person. I wait patiently for the outcome of things I cannot control. I understand that major changes take time. That said, I have begun to see red at the sight of orange " the orange rubber cones and barrels that mark yet more construction on roads and streets. I have Road Construction Overload Syndrome, which is marked by sudden elevation of blood pressure while driving and an unpleasant snarl on the upper lip.

Wherever I go, I must dodge orange cones that have been knocked into my lane by previous drivers. Whatever my destination, I weave through a maze of barrels that mark an ever-changing obstacle course of curves, zigzags and lane closures that may take me " and I must take this part on faith " to where I want to go.

Virtually every driver in Central Oklahoma has encountered the dreaded orange, too. Interstate 35, from Oklahoma City to Norman, is largely completed after years of construction, but further north and south, the highway still provides orange surprises and single lanes. Interstate 235 and the Broadway Extension continue to provide a bonanza for cone and barrel manufacturers. Interstate 40 from Agnew Avenue to May Avenue is being widened. Interstate 240 has endured bridge reconstruction over Douglas Boulevard. Interstate 44 is being resurfaced. The new I-40 Crosstown Expressway will move a five-mile expanse between May Avenue and I-235 to a few blocks south of the highway's present location.

I'm not even safe from the cones and barrels in my own west Norman neighborhood. The two major streets adjacent to Sooner Fashion Mall, Main and 36th Avenue NW, have been assaulted by a massive project to improve the streets and relocate sewer lines. At various times in the last year, heavy traffic on these busy streets has been reduced to one lane in each direction, with turn lanes eliminated, then restored, compressed and moved again. Access to the mall, post office and individual businesses has been severely limited, with entrance and exit paths that seem to change on an almost daily basis. 

If I know I will need groceries or stamps, I become an explorer. I find myself making scouting trips down these streets to figure out the current best route to any given location, with hopes that the mental map will still be accurate when I return.

This is where I feel guilty. While I am waging my personal struggle against the construction, I recognize that I am merely inconvenienced. The owners and employees of the affected businesses are suffering far more. They not only have endured the battle of the barrels to get to their workplaces, but they have faced financial losses from having fewer customers willing to negotiate the maze of the day. I wish there were a way to guarantee them that, once completed, the new, improved streets would bring them back all their old customers plus many more new ones.

These construction projects will be completed eventually " rarely on schedule, but completed. I see light at the end of the tunnel. Since I was assured last year that the street project would be finished by early November 2008, and this is only late December, I have faith that in another two or three months I will be able to drive without pre-planning. In the meantime, some other roadway is deteriorating. I again will spot orange, see red, and be reminded of an old, sad joke: "When you see light at the end of the tunnel, it might be the headlamp of an approaching train."

Murphy is a freelance writer living in Norman.

 
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