Tuesday, March 10, 1998
Buckle up - It's going to be
a bumpy ride

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This is going to be ugly, my fellow commuters. We are going to be like rats in a maze this summer. And downtown Cincinnati is the cheese. The Brent Spence Bridge. Fort Washington Way. The S-curve on I-75-71 in Northern Kentucky. Not to mention construction on the new Bengals stadium.

Todd Portune, Cincinnati City Council's public works chairman, said it's important for the city to have a plan to deal with ''either the reality or the perception'' that it's going to be difficult to get into downtown because of all the construction.

Perception? Like this might be all in our heads?

Surely nobody is going to try to persuade us that we're loading up on carbon monoxide in a slow crawl to work because we are simply too provincial and stubborn to notice all the other choices we have.

The road not taken

Here are the other choices we have:

We can take a bus or hitch a ride with a neighbor. We can find another route to work.

Here are the choices we do not have:

We cannot take a train. Most of us cannot walk or ride our bicycles to work. Even if we have the muscle and the gumption, we do not have safe pedestrian routes or bike paths.

Meanwhile, what about tourists or people from the suburbs who don't come downtown very often? They are hardly going to say, ''Well, I'm hopelessly lost, can't find the Aronoff Center anywhere. I guess I'll just stop at Tiffany's and buy something to console myself.'' This will be one more reason to stay right in comfortable, safe, familiar Anderson Township or Monfort Heights or West Chester or Florence. Or Dayton or Columbus or Lima or Indianapolis.

The whine reflex

According to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Cincinnati leads the state in the incidence of traffic accidents. David Cook of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Columbus told the Enquirer's John Hopkins, ''It may have a lot to do with geography. You have I-71 and I-75, both major routes, coming into the city. And you have traffic coming in from across the river.''

All those things converge on a mile stretch we call Fort Washington Way.

Geez, I feel my whine reflex kicking in. What are we going to do? The good news is that there won't be as many trucks, thanks to a temporary ban, beginning April 1. And, try as I might, that was the only good news I could find.

For two and a half years, we are going to be making the best of a bunch of detours. Fort Washington Way is, in truth, a piece of highway that was asked to do too much for too long. The thrill of changing lanes there has gotten my heart started many a morning. We are told that the new stretch will be safer. And that it will connect downtown with the riverfront. Or at least not be such a concrete barrier. It had better be wonderful.

The price tag right now is $146.9 million. And if we poor saps who pay the bills have learned anything from our recent adventures at the hands of those who presided over stadium bloat, it would be that we haven't seen the end yet.

If it makes your blood boil to consider how much money we're paying to keep a football team, think about how much money we spend to keep our cars. In the Midwest, the average cost of owning a car is $500 a month. That's not counting what we spend on roads and accidents and traffic control. And Maalox.

The average commute in this region was 15 minutes in 1970. By 1990, it had increased by 60 percent - to about 25 minutes one way. What do you suppose it will be next summer?

Let's think about this. We'll have plenty of time. We'll be sitting in our cars with nothing else to do.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com