NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Back On The Roads Again

This week, south Moorhead finally got a glimpse of the silver lining inside the stormy construction season of 2016: It feels so delicious when it’s almost over.

That must be why an otherwise-inexplicable happy cloud of good cheer has settled across the south quarter of town — the neighborhoods around Ground Zero. Something wonderful has happened. On what would otherwise have been a typical workday, the east- and westbound ramps from Interstate 94 onto Eighth Street South finally reopened.

How do you spell “relief”? As far as I can tell, it’s “Exit 1-A.” Returning from a meeting in Fargo Wednesday night — when MnDOT finally flashed that fine final leg — my mama-van and I became one of the very first vehicles to drive the miraculous new route.

It was glorious.

After what has seemed like an endless summer of delays and dodging detours, we’ve reached the promised land. I have to admit it — I haven’t been this excited since our new neighborhood Hornbacher’s opened last summer (even if they did forget the essential olive bar).

Just think! We can drive both ways across the fancy new overpass. We can come home from the east. We can come home from the west. We could even have slipped smoothly eastward into a late-afternoon Friday exodus for the lakes, if only those inevitable construction delays hadn’t pushed the finish line past Labor Day.

Not only that: The First Avenue bridge downtown is due to reconnect us to our North Dakota brethren and sistren any moment.

Oh, we aren’t quite orange-cone-free yet. Some finishing touches remain before every single lane will be ready for prime time. Elsewhere in town, Eighth Street remains a slalom of traffic barrels as it heads toward Main, which is closed toward the east.

And then, of course, there’s the rest of Fargo.

But hallelujah! No more double-lane back-ups eastward all the way from University Drive, waiting to squeeze through the 20th Street ramp! No more fuming through three or four cycles of red lights on 30th Avenue! No more bumper-to-bumper traffic on Convent Road! No more speeding commuters, morning and night, through otherwise-quiet residential streets, as frustrated drivers carve out secret passages to circumnavigate closures!

Somehow, I didn’t really appreciate the everyday ease of driving here until those orange-striped barriers screwed up all the routes my car seems to know by heart. As someone who still brakes in front of old Riverside School on Fourth Street —for a stop sign that was removed decades ago — I have now seen the light. Change (however well-meant) is bad. Routine is good. No, great! I promise I’ll never take our sensible city streets for granted again.

Not that the brave new world of Moorhead driving is guaranteed dilemma-free … at least, not for a while. When Russ and I bump into our neighbors lately (mind you, I’m speaking figuratively), the topic has evolved over the summer from traffic tie-ups to what’s become our newest tourist attraction: the redoubtable Diverging Diamond Interchange.

The odd instructions we’ve all read about how to navigate the eccentric I-94 overpass do have everyone buzzing. No wonder. It looks like nothing you’ve probably seen — only the fourth time MnDOT has served one up in-state (two in the Twin Cities, one in St. Cloud). It’s one of fewer than three dozen completed DDIs from coast to coast.

Knitters like me will instantly recognize the criss-cross as a classic cable pattern. Drivers lacking the insight born of yarn and needles have a tougher time picturing the schematic. Northbound drivers weave to the left side of the overpass. Southbound cars head to the right. Yes, it’s initially confusing. Just try it and follow the arrows, though. You’re going to love it.

The Diverging Diamond Interchange really is something new — first tried in France 40 years ago but not introduced in North America until Springfield, Mo., tried it first in 2009.

While the route feels downright zippy at road-level — local traffic reporter Al Aamodt compares it to a driving course — the design was developed to cut down on crashes. The DDI offers only 14 points at which cars can possibly collide, compared to 26 in the conventional pattern. That’s undoubtedly true … unless you stop dead in your tracks in the middle of the road, trying to figure out what to do next.

Those making left turns don’t have to cross oncoming traffic, as they have in the past. Left and right turns are unimpeded in every direction. It’s almost impossible to enter ramps in the wrong direction.

Traffic experts assure us that we’re all going to adore it, once we get over gritting our teeth, holding our breath and feeling our way into the intersection. But from personal experience, I can testify that it’s not love at first sight — especially at the moment, when portions of bridge deck are still barricaded to protect workers applying finishing touches.

A friend confides that she has worked out a foolproof strategy on her first few criss-crossings: She waits for another car to cross ahead of her, then follows its taillights.

That sense of security will come. Before you know it, we’ll be driving hither and yon again with nary a second thought — and getting back to complaining about the weather. In the meantime, those of us who lived through the centrifugal pull of the interstate highway system’s very first clover-leaves a lifetime ago feel ready to take on the challenge.

If, as we like to say, all roads lead to Moorhead … it’s awfully nice to know we can finally get out again.

One thought on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Back On The Roads Again”

  • Carl Griffin September 23, 2016 at 8:24 am

    I can hardly wait to drive by there when I return for a visit!


Leave a Reply