I watched as a Ford F150 disappeared down a pothole on I-440 the other day. He had to engage four-wheel drive just to extricate himself from this recent impediment to progress. I-440 was built as an inner ring road to circumnavigate a route around Nashville back in the eighties. The outer ring road, SR 840, was built about thirty-five miles further out to handle “through” traffic on the three interstates that hitherto met in downtown Nashville – I-40, I-65 and I-24.
The southern half was finished first because it was the area of most congestion and the wealthier folks lived on that side, so that’s where the money went. That is, until it ran out. So the north sides of both never got finished. The result? More congestion than ever. A commute from the outlying bedroom communities, distances ranging from 15 to 30 miles, used to take an easy, bucolic saunter to work with no reason to break any speed records and you could park outside the front door.
The daily dash now includes an hour and a half to come in from neighboring Murfreesboro on the east side in bumper-to-bumper, temper-tearing traffic. Likewise from Franklin in the south, Gallatin on the north side or Bellevue out west.
Nashville’s growth – over 1 million people in the last 10 years – embraces a sense of both pride and regret at the same time. Getting around used to involve a graceful and leisurely progress with a polite nod or wave to a neighbor. If someone signaled left but turned right, no big deal. It happened all the time. Folks had the room, time and mentality to make such last minute adjustments to their journeys. Try that on I-440 now and you’ll invite the Wrath of Khan and start a road rage incident that’s likely to end up on Channel 2 on the evening news.
I-440 was built using concrete for the road surface and its abutments. It looked sleek, crisp and carried a sense of 1980s cool advancement. That might suit an auto auction parking lot in California but here it’s as useful as boobs on a bulldog. Aquaplaning at 49 miles per hour was commonplace and slick-looking I-440 looked something more like scrap yard for hours at a time.
They cut grooves in the pavement to aid drainage and reduce noise. While now marginally better, try riding a motorcycle on grooved pavement at speeds to keep up with the traffic. You couldn’t drive a sixpenny nail up your backside with a seven-pound club hammer as your nerves are so clenched!
When concrete starts to crumble, its rate of destruction is alarming and the roadway, encased in concrete barriers and cut-through widening embankments now looks like some cheap and cheesy Russian project. All we need to complete the vision would be a few high-rise apartment blocks with the weekly wash dangling from the balconies.
Not so much the sunny gateway to the south; now more like a shabby show of lacked maintenance and who really gives a rat’s damn. That song about leaving a cake out in the rain comes to mind
The irony here is that the influx of people to the area has brought extra tax revenues to the state. According to one local association, we now have a cool $1 billion in the coffers. So Governor Haslam has a plan to reduce taxes on food and manufacturing but he proposes to raise revenues on a higher gas tax and vehicle registrations to provide for future infrastructure improvements. I remember a past article on the subject in support of such a move. In these new days of Trump’s push for such things on a pay-as-you-go basis, it can’t happen soon enough. Better than having our kids pay for it later. The project is called “IMPROVE”, a mnemonic for Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy.
Perhaps we’ll consider building roundabouts instead of red lights. That’s fodder for another article – stay tuned.
In the meanwhile I’ll use the Range Rover with its suspension raised to get about town.