Opinion: On the road to what, Chattanooga?

Staff file photo/Robin Rudd / A crew from Doug Yates Towing and Recovery removes a vehicle from a early morning accident on Interstate 24, between Belvior and Germantown roads. A $191 million contract has been let by TDOT for Phase II of the I-24/I-75 Interchange Improvement project where construction will take place between the split and the Germantown Road interchange on I-24 and on I-75 between the wplit and the East Brainerd Road interchange.

I was surprised to see the photos of Ron DeSantis' multi-car, motorcade pileup on I-75 that stalled his arrival at a campaign fundraising event. I wondered if his motorcade got caught up in some of the orange traffic cones along the way. Or maybe the cars got caught in heavy traffic on that section of the highway as other motorists careened across lanes.

It wouldn't have been surprising if either had happened. Whatever the cause, we may never know. DeSantis was using state vehicles, and a new law was just passed shielding his travel records from public view.

But we do know something about our road challenges, and we are learning even more.

First lesson: Note this quote from Patrick Rothfuss, "Safe roads are the bones of civilization." Key for keeping those bones safe is how people drive on them. Alas, what was once civilized and polite driving has given way to the equivalent of pushing and shoving, like children in school hallways. I am forever grateful for those drivers who let you onto the highway in front of them. And for those who don't speed up to cut you off as they shift lanes. They have a slightly saintly aura.

Second lesson: Construction and orange barrels are our new normal. I wonder if DeSantis' team had driven around East Ridge and the Brainerd area. The drive can be mind-numbing. Ringgold Road is continually under construction with those bright cones everywhere. Digging equipment has decorated various sides of the road for longer than I can remember. Main roads are blocked. Some ramps on and off the highway are gone. My favorite mess is the circular route now made by metal shafts that lead cars onto South Terrace in a circle around closed I-24 ramps. A driver unused to the area had gotten in the circle by mistake and just sat there in his car, mystified at the traffic coming coming at him. Yeah, buddy ... I feel your pain.

We all know that Chattanooga is growing by leaps and bounds. You only have to look at the number of gray and white apartment buildings going up all over town, transforming once distinctive areas into lookalikes. Water mains and sewer systems are being updated, often leaving raised planks and covers that clank loudly when driven over.

As we grow and roads get more congested, the modernization process that widens and adds highway lanes can be confusing. For example, if you don't know that the extra lanes on the highway will quickly merge and disappear, being mystified is the least of your worries.

Gov. Bill Lee has responded with a statewide campaign to promote his $3 billion Transportation Modernization Act. He recently gave a speech at Apison Pike site that's part of a larger project to widen Apison Pike from Interstate 75 to East Brainerd Road and more safely connect Ooltewah, Collegedale and Apison to Chattanooga's urban core. An admirable goal ... except for one thing. The act explores public-private partnerships for "Choice Lanes." That's a divert-and-deflect euphemism for toll roads. Supposedly this will decrease congestion, save taxpayer dollars and make road projects more efficient.

The urban planner in me wants to know exactly how toll roads would be a plus for transportation. I hear echoes of that old saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." If you hear that, too, ask questions. Lots of pointed questions. And don't settle for divert-and-deflect answers.

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah@diversityreport.com.