There aren’t many times in Richmond Hill you can walk out into the middle of Highway 144 around 3 p.m. on a weekday in the heart of the commercial district and take a photo of nothing happening.
There was such a time last week.
It was after the mandatory evacuation had been issued for Hurricane Dorian and I was about to wander over and take some photos of first responders and Bryan County Emergency Management Agency folks gearing up in their operations center for whatever came when Dorian arrived.
And there was normally busy 144, empty save for a random car or occasional emergency vehicle. I strolled out into the middle of the road and snapped away. It was eerie, the absence of traffic. Almost peaceful.
And then in a day or two it was back to normal, the hurricane, thankfully, having spared us. That’s a great thing.
Life has since resumed its normal 100 mph, increasingly crowded pace, and sometimes I think that is not a great thing.
Terrible traffic has become such a constant that we may be coming inured to it. It can’t be healthy.
But at least 144, for all its headaches, and there are many, isn’t the 80 mph hour insanity of I-95 as it goes over Highway 17.
I don’t know what it is about that overpass that makes it so terrible to drive over aside from the fact it wasn’t built to deal with all the traffic it’s being required to handle.
Headed south, you’ve got drivers running fast as they can three lanes wide around a curve and up a hill into occasionally standstill traffic in the slow lane trying to exit because, well, because of progress, I guess. Sometimes, that slow lane traffic backs up all the way to Highway 144.
Approaching from the other direction isn’t much better. Head north into its teeth and you’ve got people trying to get on the overpass by going up a corkscrew while three lanes of traffic thunder by, those who would give an inch and get over often hemmed in the right lane by someone in the middle lane, and the fast lane, and so it goes. It is a grinding, dangerous, depressing, awful stretch of interstate.
If there’s an upside, I suppose it could be worse. This could be Pooler, or metro Atlanta where, if memory serves, the local networks run a list of accidents at the bottom of the TV screen all day long, one after another after another.
Once, while covering something in Atlanta, I had to drive I-285 and saw cops in the left hand lane being passed again and again and again. I was doing 70 mph in the slow lane and my doors were almost blown off.
I later was told Atlanta cops didn’t enforce speed limits on 75 and 285 because it would back traffic up for miles in every direction - so many people are driving into or through or around the city they need to get them in and out as fast as they can.
Maybe that’s what’s happening here. I hope not. I am not hopeful. Our solutions, you see, cause their own set of problems.
More lanes, which seems to be our main response to congestion, tend to bring more traffic as developers look to improve upon nature by replacing trees and habitat for the more defenseless of God's creatures with still more subdivisions and convenience stores and self storage units and dining and shopping options we seem to be unable to do without these days.
It’ll be called progress.
It’s not. Bigger isn’t better, more is sometimes less. Life is short enough already.
Had I the power, I’d put signs up warning drivers in both directions that they’re entering a dangerous spot on 95, one of the coast’s worst. Then I would bring every Georgia State Patrol trooper I could find down here for a month and have them park alongside the shoulders from the Ogeechee River Bridge to mile marker 85, and demand they start writing tickets and keep on writing tickets until people got the message.
It might not even take troopers. Officials could do worse than put speed cameras out there on the overpass and keep them loaded with film, shooting license plates of speeders and reckless drivers and mailing the owners tickets.
My guess is over time the revenue from fines would either pay for a newer, better overpass or it would convince the lead footed idiots among us to back off or take another route.
Back to 144. For a short while, it was quiet in the middle of the road in the middle of the afternoon on a gray Wednesday.
I even have photos to prove it.