Help Wanted

Bay Weekly reporter Ashley Brotherton missed the news this week.
    Instead of getting to know crabs in Cambridge, she spent two hours and $4 to go over the Bay Bridge twice.
    So she also made the news. She and the thousand of other drivers whose routine 4.3-mile trip across Chesapeake Bay turned into — depending on their disposition and opportunity — hours of frustration, windfall time to play with their cell phones or impromptu, make-the-best-of-it block parties.
    Ashley chose her iPhone. “If I hadn’t had my phone, I would have gone nuts,” she said. (She almost did over five recent days of deprivation, as you’ll read in this week’s Stretching Your Comfort Zone.)
    Mostly, she was relieved. “I’m just glad I wasn’t coming across during that ‘unusual and slight vertical movement’,” she said. Especially as she was driving her father’s high and blocky mid-1990s Ford work van.
    That movement closed the westbound span of the Bay Bridge — all three lanes of it — from 3am to noon Tuesday, when inspection eventually wrote it off to anomalies of wind and repair.
    Meanwhile, travelers from the Eastern Shore used the whole older, two-lane eastbound span some of the time, and some of the time that span carried two-way traffic.
    Now traffic is flowing with no more than usual congestion, which the Labor Day weekend will likely intens­ify into gridlock.
    One more time, trouble on the only bridge spanning the Chesapeake has proved temporary. Once more, we’re counting that the day will never come when whatever slows down Bay Bridge traffic — from unusual movement to holiday traffic to deadly accidents — doesn’t go away.
    Inconvenience has entered our routine of travel, both short and long distance. We’re used to waiting on bridge traffic, waiting in traffic jams, changing our plans and sometimes our conveyances. In 1988, the Gov. Johnson Bridge over the Patuxent, built in 1977 at Solomons, was shut down for repair of structural defects. If you wanted to get from Calvert to St. Mary’s then, you went the old-fashioned way, by boat. Or crossed the Benedict Bridge, which is only a half hour or so north of the Solomons’ crossing.
    Detouring around the Bay Bridge would be a bigger deal. The distance is longer: The 195-mile-long Bay is uncrossed from the bridge tunnel at its mouth in Virginia Beach till it meets land in Cecil County.
    The traffic is also heavier. Eighty-two thousand vehicles cross the Bay Bridge each day. Our bridge is both a commuter convenience and an East Coast thoroughfare.  It’s also aging, with one span completed in 1953 and the other in 1973.
    Inconvenience, we’re inured to. We’ve gotten used to the inconvenient fact that our streets and highways are carrying more cars than they were built for. We’re driving more cars and longer distances, even though we’re many years from the Eisenhower era of highway expansion. New highways are few and far between, and new bridges — like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac — even fewer.
    Yet most of us haven’t switched to public transportation. Except in our cities — like D.C., where engineering innovation gave us Metro in the long-ago days of the Bicentennial — there aren’t enough attractive, efficient options to help the bulk of us change our habits.
    We’re used to inconvenience. But impossibility we don’t like. Many of us don’t know what it means.
    Until the long shadow of 9/11 passes over our thoughts. As it does this time of year when autumn presents its early calling card of clear air and blue skies.
    That fateful week was the only time many of us couldn’t go where we wanted, if where we wanted took traveling by air. Remember the emptiness of the sky when all the planes — except fighters — were grounded?
    Working is the theme of your paper this week, which spans the long Labor Day weekend. As you’ll read, we celebrate the jobs we do in Chesapeake Country.
    My Labor Day wish is that more of our jobs had to do with transportation planning and construction. America can still send a rover to Mars, and Curiosity’s pictures from the other side of the universe are certainly engaging my curiosity. But we don’t seem to be able to build bridges, improve highways or catch up with science fiction in our invention of new ways to get around our own world. It’s time we start thinking ahead — including thinking how we’re going to pay for getting where we expect to go.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]