Copyright 2001 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved



Crank's Corner: Commentary by Linda Marcas



                                  To NB or Not To NB?


    That is not the question, but it should be.  Why should everyone travelling on State Route 18 have
to drag their tails, tires, and trailers through the center of our Tiny Town?  I seriously doubt that the success
or failure of downtown businesses depends upon such transient traffic; rather, I see how the never-ending
stream of semi-trucks and other non-local vehicles detracts from the charm of living a couple of miles off
the beaten path.  Yes, the sign at the edge of town calls North Baltimore "the Crossroads of the Heartland,"
but let's keep the traffic of that crossroads out by the intersection of I-75 and SR-18, where the
infrastructure is equipped to handle it (sbnr), rather than having it ten feet from my front door.

    I'd like to see SR-18 bypass downtown NB by continuing westward out beyond the golf course and
rejoining existing 18 somewhere west of Liberty High Road.  Part of my desire for a bypass is selfish; if the
tractor-trailers didn't have to come to a stop in front of my home, I wouldn't have to listen to their noise as
well as the noise of the trains.  I don't particularly mind the trains (except for the guy who is so horn-happy
on the switching engine here in town); I suppose they are the sign of a booming economy.  So are the trucks,
presumably; after Ike, the Interstate, and the Teamsters' union, "if you've got it, a truck brought it."
Nevertheless, semi-trucks are large and loud, and, as far as I know, North Baltimore has not yet banned the
use of air brakes inside the city limits.  Why not, I'd like to know?  Even Portage has well-posted signs
saying "No Jake Brake," insuring that the sleep of that drowsy burg continues undisturbed by hideous
honkings.

    For our town, though, a bypass would be even better than a ban on air brakes.  We could do
without the noise and smoke of the truck engines, the noise of non-local traffic, the danger that such heavy
traffic poses for pedestrians, bicyclists, and local drivers, and the wear-and-tear of heavy vehicles and traffic
on our downtown streets.  If South Main Street no longer had to do double duty as a state highway, it might
seem more attractive to business owners who could afford to maintain their buildings.  Maybe a lot of the
blame for South Main's becoming "the wrong side of the tracks" in the first place should be laid squarely on
SR-18 and the amount of traffic it carries.

    Years ago, when the pace of life was somewhat slower even if the speed limits of the roads were
not, a state route in the center of town was an advantage for the local businesses.  People who were out to
see the U.S.A. in their Chevrolet might have stopped to eat lunch or have an ice cream cone on their way
from here to there, and truckers could deliver goods to merchants in towns all along a state route more
quickly and easily, and therefore more cheaply, than to merchants in more out-of-the-way communities.
Everyone benefitted; townsfolk had affordable goods near at hand, businesses thrived, and trucking
companies made a profit.

    That was then, this is now, and we live two miles from the Interstate.  Instead of a car in every
garage, we now have a car for nearly every person old enough to drive, or even more; hubby and I own
three cars between us.  It's too easy to drive to bigger cities with bigger stores with bigger selections of
goods, and local businesses have suffered because of that.  Aside from a pair of flip-flops from Scarbrough's
Drugs or workboots ordered from the farm center, you can't buy a new pair of shoes in North Baltimore any
more.  Whether or not one thinks of this as "progress," it's the way things are, at least for the time being, and
we're stuck with it.

    With that in mind, it no longer makes sense to have a state route going through the middle of town.
Forcing through traffic to slow down and come to a stop before making the sharp turn at the intersection of
Main and State Streets makes even less sense in light of the current gasoline prices; how much gas does this
waste, compared to the overall savings in consumption there could be if through traffic maintained its speed
along a convenient bypass?  "They"say that gasoline prices are determined, in part, by supply and demand;
imagine how much less "demand" there would be if, all across the country, unnecessary stops in small towns
could be eliminated.  Lower transportation costs might eventually result in lower prices for consumer goods
as well as gasoline, unless "they" find some other reason to keep prices high, as usual.

    On the other hand, if gasoline prices go up to $7.00 a gallon and no one can afford to drive thirty
miles for shopping or fun, Main Street businesses that sell real goods might just make a comeback, because
they'll have a captive consumer audience.  I'm not holding my breath in expectation of that happening,
though.  For now, considering fuel costs, road wear, noise, pollution (gotta love that deisel exhaust coming
in the windows), danger, and inconvenience to local traffic, a bypass for SR-18 around North Baltimore is
just common sense.  Through trucks and traffic, go and be wherever you need to go and to be, as long as it's
not to NB.


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