There is a stretch of highway in Saint Louis county known as I-170. Sometimes it is called the “Innerbelt”, although these days that term is not as prevalent as it was once upon a time. A time, incidentally, that I am actually old enough to remember.
You see, way back when, in the days of dinosaurs and mammoths, I-170 was designated as 725. These days I-170 stretches from the Highway 40 interchange in the southern portion of the county, up to the I-270 interchange in the north. But, back when it was called 725 – or, as we teens at the time called it, Seven And A Quarter – the Innerbelt ran from Eager Road in the south and unceremoniously ended with a barricade and a single must take exit at Page Avenue, smack in the middle of Northwest County. Back then it was the quickest way – and ostensibly, still is – to get to Clayton. You may have heard of Clayton – and no, I’m not talking about Clayton Moore aka The Lone Ranger. Clayton, Missouri is where you find the county courthouse.
But, as usual, I’m not actually writing this blog to talk about Clayton. I’m writing it to talk about construction.
Road construction to be precise.
Many years ago, as the dinosaurs were dying out and mammals were becoming the dominant species (i.e. my early, early 20′s) our short little stretch of tarmac, so lovingly known as Seven And A Quarter became I-170 and was expanded, lengthened, what have you. Well, as urban sprawl continues to… well… sprawl, traffic changes and what seemed like a good idea at the time no longer meets the needs of the unforeseen future. So, things get torn up, rebuilt, expanded, stretched, widened, and otherwise completely re-invented.
Such was the case with I-170. At some point during my late, late 30′s the powers that be realized that the person who had originally designed the interchange at I-170 and I-270 had probably been smoking crack while drawing up the plans. It was probably one of the wort, most congested, and literally dangerous interchanges known to man. So, in a bid to correct the mistake, they redesigned it, tore it all up, and made a bigger and better interchange between the thoroughfares.
Then, traffic increased on I-170 because the I-270 terminus was no longer a clusterf*ck. What did that mean? Well, simple. It made the rest of I-170 a cluster. What was once a lonely stretch of road connecting two parts of the county was becoming a parking lot every morning and evening throughout the week. So, what did the powers that be do? Well, the only thing they could. They found someone else who wasn’t on crack, redesigned the Innerbelt, tore it up, and made it better than it was.
Better, stronger, faster…
Let me tell you, it cost more than 6 million bucks too. It even cost more than 7 million (the pricetag on the Bionic Woman… ya’know, inflation and all…)
But, in the end, congestion was alleviated and I-170, while not returned to its original quietude as 725, became much easier and faster to travel. In many ways this is good. In others, maybe not so much. You see, living where we do, I-170 is pretty much a main thoroughfare for us. It is close by, easily accessible, and an artery that will take us most anywhere we need or want to go – even if it is simply getting us to a different highway in order to reach our final destination. Therefore, E K and I travel it often.
Such was the case just the other day.
As we cruised along in the northbound lanes, wind whistling past the Evil-Mobile, (at the time the cloaking device was on and switched to Soccer Mom Van mode), and traveling somewhere near 987 miles per hour, (E K may be a petite bundle of mean, but her foot weighs 12 metric tonnes whenever it comes into contact with a gas pedal), we were watching the landscape flashing in the windows. Bare patches of flattened land were evident where grassy berms and stands of trees once lined the thoroughfare. Nearing our exit I happened to glance to the left and noticed the carcass of a rather large groundhog, sprawled lifeless in the center emergency lane against the better than 3 foot high concrete dividers.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the creature, and vocalized my theory about its demise.
“Poor bastard was probably just trying to cross the road and got stuck there because of the dividers and traffic,” I lamented.
EK clucked her tongue and said, “Maybe it ran into traffic on purpose.”
I furrowed my brow and grunted, “Whaddaya mean?”
“I mean maybe it finally had enough of us tearing up its home and it just ran into traffic to commit suicide.”
You know, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if E K was right about that. And, what’s worse – If I were a groundhog trying to escape the utter insanity of human urban sprawl, I might just do the same…
More to come…