It seems I've made more than my share of trips to town this winter, what with meetings, doctor appointments, grocery shopping and picking up those prescriptions. Snow and ice have forced me to keep my eyes pretty much glued to the road, so I haven't paid much attention to the scenery. What's to look at, anyway, except more snow and ice? A few days ago, though, I was driving between Solon and Iowa City on Highway 1, in no particular hurry and enjoying the sunshine for a change, which had me feeling almost spring-like. I didn't like what I saw.
Great piles of mud and brush, heaps of limbs and branches, uprooted trees and demolished fences. It looked like the aftermath of a major war. I didn't have to wonder about the cause of all the destruction – the highway department was at work. After a totally unreasonable number of fatal automobile accidents on that highway, the powers that be finally condescended to do something about that totally inadequate stretch of road which, I understand, is one of the most dangerous bits of state highway in Iowa.
Last summer and fall we put up with bulldozers and backhoes, trucks, bridge repairs, one-lane construction zones and warning signs about work being done ahead. Too often, the work being done was 50 yards off in a field somewhere, rained out, or not yet begun. Still, this winter, we are warned by more or less permanent signs that there is road construction ahead when, in fact, nothing whatever is going on and the road hasn't changed one bit from what it has been like for the past 20 years. So what's the construction? Strangers to the area, upon seeing the signs, drive cautiously and slowly, expecting to encounter a road crew at any moment. Locals, who know the signs are temporarily meaningless, ignore them. Both are dangerous.
In a winter that has been inconvenient, grimly cold, and depressingly relentless, we've been treated to all that trash left along the roadway for several yards on both sides, all the way from Solon and into Iowa City. I understand that some of the planned road improvements (whatever they are) may be impossible to pursue during the weather we've been having, but I don't see why that should stop somebody from cleaning up the mess. Frozen ground and idle laborers seem tailor-made for the clean-up job. Or are they just planning to leave those heaps of trash to decorate our roadway for the next seven years or however long it takes to either finish the improvements or for the debris to rot away and disappear on its own?
I know from my 40 years of living where I do that, when the county decides to “clean out the ditches” by uprooting all the sumac, raspberries, elderberries, wild plums and wild roses that grow there, we are in for what springs up in their wake: mud and weeds. Run-off rushes down the hills and ditches, carrying topsoil and farm chemicals to pollute ponds and streams and the only things that manage to take root in the wasteland are weeds. And when piles of brush and limbs are left for months before being cleared away, they harbor rats and skunks and other undesirable temporary residents, and make it impossible for farmers to mow or otherwise keep the weeds down. If you think those heaps of debris cleared from the right-of-ways are unattractive, wait until midsummer when the weeds are flourishing!
It might be worth the cost and inconvenience to have the highway widened, turning lanes put in where needed, and a few of the curves eliminated. It would be safer and more efficient, but I'm wondering if I'll survive the mess long enough to see such a miracle. So far, I still have to wait for dozens of cars to barrel past before I can turn off my road onto the highway, people to pass on the yellow line when I slow to turn off, or whiz past me on the shoulder while I wait to make a left turn. Scary! And the only difference I've seen so far is what appears to be vandalism that makes Johnson County look like a war-torn third-world country.