Monday, March 4 1996
Attention, road warriors: On your mark

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hang up the car phone. Put down the makeup.

Your full attention and cooperation are needed.

Starting today, driving for the next two years amid the orange barrels on Interstate 71 is going to be . . .

''Pure hell,'' says tow-truck driver Dave Hubbard.

''The biggest fear of my life,'' says highway traffic cop Chris Waldeck.

''The drivers on I-71 have no idea how screwed up this is going to be.''

The policeman and the wrecker driver know. They've both spent the past 14 years cruising Cincinnati's highways. Chris the cop drives 100 miles a day in the fast lanes of Interstates 71 and 75 for the Cincinnati Police Division's traffic unit. Dave the tow guy rescues stranded motorists on both expressways for his company, Hubbard's Towing.

Both men have seen freeways under construction. And if they never see another one, it will be too soon.

They have sat for hours in stopped traffic as an interstate turns into a parking lot.

They have watched radiators and drivers' tempers boil over.

''Every afternoon at rush hour certain drivers sit in their cars and scream at the construction guys,'' notes Officer Waldeck. ''I'm surprised one of those workers hasn't taken a pop at those drivers. Some of those guys are as big as a bear and they're not out there for public relations.''

Makeup nightmare

The arrival of the orange barrel brigade on I-71 will set off wails in Hyde Park and Kenwood and more than a few chuckles in Evendale, Westwood and the other communities served by I-75. The west-side freeway has done its time in construction hell. Now it's the other side's turn.

The cross-town switch of the ''Road Construction'' signs also recasts the cherished Cincinnati debate of East Side vs. West Side. This time it's come down to: Who drives worse when their freeway is torn up? The west-side chili eaters on I-75? Or east-siders sipping cappuccino as their silver BMWs zip along I-71?

''I'm not going to get into the middle of this east-west debate,'' swears Officer Waldeck. ''If I say something wrong, I'll have people shooting at me out there.''

Mr. Hubbard is less diplomatic.

''Both expressways have the same number of jerks driving on them,'' he says. ''They gotta drink that coffee, talk on that cellular phone and put on that makeup while they drive that car.''

The mention of makeup causes Chris the cop to take sides.

''I have noticed more women putting on makeup on 71 than 75. The reason (they do it) is that 71 is not as crowded, there are more lanes and they're wider. There's more room to slide around.''

He pauses, imagining four lanes cut to two, women putting on pretty faces during morning rush hour. ''Geesh, I'm not looking forward to it at all. They won't have much room to slide around while they put on that makeup.''

What kind of makeup?

''Eye makeup! They actually sit there with that mirror down, look at it and put that line under their eye.''

East beats west

When it comes to I-75 vs. I-71 drivers, Cincinnati motorists are generally law-abiding, poky and chicken. They slow down to gawk at accidents. They slam on their brakes when anything resembling ice or snow hits the pavement.

It turns out, however, the difference lies, not in ourselves, but in our cars.

Ride this east-side vs. west-side stereotype: New cars dominate I-71. Wheezing clunkers clog I-75.

On that trip, you'd expect to see dead Chevys lining I-75 under the Western Hills Viaduct and nothing but wind and disappearing luxury taillights on I-71.

Wrong.

Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 16, AAA Cincinnati towed 328 cars from the prestige highway, compared with 184 from I-75.

Watch for those I-71 numbers to jump. Not from serious accidents. But from start-and-stop fender benders caused by guys taking their eyes off the road to watch concrete being poured.

''I was talking to an insurance agent the other day about I-71,'' says Officer Waldeck. She told him she's looking forward to the construction mess.

To her, it's no hindrance. It's job security.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.