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POSTED: October 13, 2007 5:04 a.m.

It seems you can’t go anywhere these days without a whole bunch of other people cranking up and going with you.

Or more accurately, trying to beat you there – and without a turn signal in the bunch.

I bring this up only because I had to be in Statesboro at 9 a.m. Wednesday. And while driving what once were considered relatively lonely back roads as recently as five years ago, I encountered about three times more traffic than I expected – and again marveled at the amount of new residential development going up.

It can leave you wondering where the people are coming from to fill the homes and worried whether there’s going to a wild spot left in the Coastal Empire when it’s all said and done.

My guess is there won’t, though I sincerely hope I’m wrong – especially since I’m old enough to remember times when the South was a much less crowded place and sentimental enough to care.

Times when you saw more fireflies at night than headlights from passing cars.

Times when you could roll down your window and hear crickets chirp, not the thump of bass speakers from somebody following you so closely you wonder if a marriage proposal might be on the way.

Times when you could drive from Columbia toward the coast in my home state of South Carolina and I-26, now heavily traveled, was about as crowded then as I-16 is now in the middle of the night. Back when there truly were lonesome highways in this part of the world and plenty of dirt roads to explore.

Or times when I was much younger – the late 1960s – and my grandfather would sit me down on the hood of his car, hand me a slingshot and a can of marbles and we’d cruise slowly around the hilly two-lane blacktop roads on the outskirts of Pendleton, S.C., looking for rabbits.

In theory I was to shoot them, but I don’t recall seeing rabbits.

But the thrill of riding in the open air, the smell of honeysuckle and bouncing marbles off the blacktop or whizzing them into deep thickets of kudzu in hopes of flushing some creature out is something I’ll never forget.

Of course, you couldn’t get away with that sort of nonsense now for various and obvious reasons – and a grandfather would be locked up for even mentioning it.

And even if you could still set a kid on the hood of a car and go for a slow spin pretending to hunt rabbits with a slingshot, there seem to be fewer and fewer roads on which to do it.

And that’s too bad.

In the meantime, traffic is already so lousy in so many places the DOT can’t keep up with the demand for new roads, wider roads, bypasses, traffic lights, ingresses, egresses, median cuts, ad naseum. The last time I checked, the state was about $7 billion behind in terms of funding road projects already on the table.

That probably leaves you and me dealing with the increasing amount of traffic – with the promise of more on the way as coastal Georgia continues to grow – on the same old roads.

Maybe that’s not as bad a thing as I tend to think. Maybe it's just a quality of life ruining thing for all who commute to work, inevitable as taxes and death and another season of American Idol.

But I can't help but occasionally feel that all who profit most directly from growth – and everyone in government– should be forced to go tangle with the worst traffic our area has to offer. The fiercely bad rush hour traffic on Hwy. 21 linking Chatham and Effingham counties would work for starters.

And they should get stuck in that traffic at least once a week until the message starts to sink in. You know the message I'm referring to. It's blisteringly simple math: more people means more cars and pickups and SUVs and bikes. That means more traffic on roads that don't grow proportionately all by themselves to handle the additional load. Yet add to that load we do.

I don't know, maybe it's not that big of a deal. And I really don't want to make it seem I'm complaining.

It's just that a trip that once took me about 45 minutes clocked in at about an hour and 15 minutes of mostly hard driving -- and left me wondering what it will be like in another five years.

 

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