Interstate 55

Friday, October 28, 2011

If you live in and around Southeast Missouri, you are familiar with Interstate 55, the superhighway transportation backbone of our area. And some of you may be too familiar with the route.

Take those who commute to jobs in St. Louis on I-55. Every day. God bless them. They need it.

For the rest of us, general boredom sets in after about the 20th or 30th Cape Girardeau-St. Louis round trip. But we endure the three to four hours of interstate driving for a variety of reasons, including, perhaps, getting to see the Cardinals play their final World Series game.

OK. That wasn't boring, I'm sure.

My wife and I have had occasion to make the trip several times in recent weeks, once to see an "art film" that isn't likely to come to Cape Girardeau theaters. We hope the Esquire makeover will bring those films, often foreign, to our own art film theater. We won't miss the long drive.

Four things stood out as I was driving home Tuesday from St. Louis: autumn leaves, freshly mowed medians and shoulders, large highway signs and the pulse of big-rig commerce.

The autumn leaves, which were predicted to be drab this year because of the summer dry spell, are particularly vibrant, perhaps because we were expecting to see dull and instead saw plenty of golds, reds and rusts mixed in with a good deal of green. Congregations of sumac added considerable accents of scarlet all along the way. This made the drive much less boring.

The highway department has reduced its mowing schedule to save money. As a result, medians and shoulders have displayed wildflowers not usually seen. For my wife and I, this has been a bonus.

But now I-55 is getting its fall haircut. Miles and miles of vegetation along the highway is being trimmed to a uniform height, resulting in a smooth lawn nearly from here to there and back. Tidy looks good too.

A few years ago the Convention and Visitors Bureau had billboards along I-55 just south of St Louis that brought attention to our city's historical roots. They were eye-catching and clever. And, I suppose, expensive.

Now the city is getting free advertising on highway signs that are twice as big as the billboards and stretch across several lanes of the southbound interstate. "Cape Girardeau" looks good in white letters several feet high against a green background.

Suggestion: Add one of those text-message signs to those huge highway signs. The messages could promote special events like the SEMO District Fair, crafts extravaganzas and special River Campus performances.

By the way, that's something the highway department could do on major signs all over the state.

Finally, I know there are many ways to measure economic activity. We've heard plenty about them in the past three years of the Great Recession.

My own gauge is the number of semitrailer rigs going up and down I-55. On Tuesday, there was virtually a nonstop string of the big haulers traveling the highway.

Someone is buying a lot of stuff, and someone is selling a lot of stuff. Which means a lot of people are employed making, marketing, delivering and stocking a lot of stuff.

My unofficial semi gauge indicates some sectors of our economy are doing just fine, thank you.

See what happens when you drive on I-55?

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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