Week of March 29, 2009
Pennsylvania's Signs of Spring
by Rosemary and Walter Brasch
For some people, the first day of spring occurs when they see a crocus poking its purple head through the snow.
For others, it's seeing the first robin.
But these are unreliable signs, for nature is so unpredictable.
For us, the harbinger of spring is seeing that first pylon on the Interstate and just about any state highway. Those orange, pointy cone things bring the first bright color to a drab winter landscape, forecasting what is to come. Sometimes, there are even workers doing whatever it is that PennDOT workers do on the roads-all of them working behind signs that proclaim "Detour," "Lane Closed," and "Be Prepared to Stop.".
It wouldn't be spring unless at least one lane of traffic on anything that has concrete or asphalt as a base is closed, and thousands of drivers are forced to get up close and personal with each other.
We've seen strangers who have spent so much time together they have separation anxiety when, as the traffic inches along, the much-anticipated off-ramp appears. They need not worry-chances are good they'll meet again, since the same stretches of highway are often under construction all Spring, all Summer, and all Fall.
The only thing that seems to make the pylons disappear is, alas, an early Winter.
Ask truckers, and they'll tell you that Pennsylvania has some of the worst roads in the country. It might be because at one time, companies bid cheap and constructed the Interstate cheaply, bribing and kicking back to politicians, skimming profits. It might be because these companies knew their future wasn't in building a roadway, but in making sure it was built just well enough to fool inspectors. These companies and now PennDOT, which fixes and refixes, modifies and improves, should be re-named Planned Obsolescence Incorporated. Granted, our weather, with cold and hot extremes, also adds greatly to yearly maintenance. However, most of the work appears to involve moving one acceptable ramp over about six feet to-we suppose-make it "better."
While we support President Obama's stimulus program, and we hope every American who wants a job gets one, there's one phrase being used which causes us to shudder-"shovel ready." This, of course, lends itself to highway, bridge, and overpass work and, with that, more of those blooming pylons.
[Rosemary R. Brasch is a retired secretary, labor/union specialist, and college instructor in labor issues. She is a also a former national Red Cross family services specialist for national disasters. Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available from amazon.com, bn.com, and other stores.]