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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
The highway was full.
Plain and simple; there were just too many vehicles on the interstate.
Perhaps there was once just enough traffic to warrant building an interstate between Laredo and San Antonio or, to be precise, a trade corridor right up the middle of the United States between the Mexican and Canadian borders, but there is far more traffic today than just a few years ago, and that means our old four-lane controlled-access road is woefully inadequate.
The chicken-and-egg question is moot. Whether trade necessitated an interstate or whether an interstate facilitated trade isn’t worth arguing. They fed each other.
The interstates we know today originated in a plan hatched by the Eisenhower Administration after General Ike witnessed the wonders of the German Autobahn while he was over there (for some reason or other) in the 1940s. Building high-speed roads that swept people and goods all over the country, uninterrupted by traffic lights, with access restricted to designated ramps, with exit lanes created so as not to slow other traffic, was a lofty goal that took thirty years to accomplish. By the mid-1980s, virtually all the interstates originally mapped had been completed, and a few more besides, and work had already begun to widen those that saw the most use.
We may hate to admit it, but the American interstate highway system is based on a design by Adolf Hitler.
With no speed limits and with wide-open lanes draped over the beautiful German landscape, Hitler could show off his country’s brilliant new fast motorcars and his marvelous little Volkswagens, and move massive quantities of goods and military materiel over vast distances very swiftly indeed.
Ike and his boys did the same thing on the same roads when they visited.
Well into the 1970s the Autobahn was absolutely perfect. There was enough room for everyone, and freight traffic wasn’t allowed on it during the weekends. Even the fuel stations were accessible only to Autobahn traffic, and travelers were not allowed to pump their own gasoline. Everything was immaculately efficient.
Much as Germany changed, the Autobahn changed, as well.
The time has come to rethink how our stretch of Interstate 35 should be adapted to 21st century demand.
Last week, at least three fender-benders caused such a logjam of freight trucks on the highway in Frio and La Salle counties that the lines reached for miles into the distance. The horizon was made up almost entirely of white rectangles. It wasn’t that the crashes were particularly bad; the problem was that even a slight slow-down or closure of one lane in either direction put just enough of a dampener on the 75-mile-per-hour flow that everyone eventually came to a complete standstill.
Last Wednesday, it took me over two hours to make the ordinarily short drive from Pearsall to Cotulla.
This is unacceptable. I don’t mean that it just annoys civilian drivers trying to go home; I mean it seriously affects trade at the border.
When 40,000 lbs. of widgets arrive two or more hours late at a warehouse, scores of people are affected. Someone burns the midnight oil. Transfers are delayed. Other drivers have to stay overnight somewhere.
The price of widgets rises. Eventually, the price of things that widgets widget also rises.
That’s right. A simple fender-bender in Dilley today may affect someone’s pocketbook in Minnesota tomorrow.
Can you imagine trying to drive or do business in Laredo or San Antonio when all of that tardy freight arrives in one big surge, instead of the steady and measured flow for which the roads and terminals were designed?
Six-lane interstate rebuilding has begun in Laredo. It could be more than a decade before it reaches us.
In the meantime, we have to learn patience with a road built fifty years ago on a design now over seventy years old and clearly groaning under the leviathan pressure of the very trade for which it was created.
It’s not a question of whether change will come, but of when.