A Most Welcome Sign

The morning commute can set the tone for the day.  If it is a ball-busting, white-knuckling hassle, filled with stops and starts and inexplicable traffic jams and angry road ragers, it’s hard to get to the office with a cheerful attitude.

Lately my drives to work have been like that.  I take I-670 into Columbus, and for months the Third Street exit to the downtown area has been closed.  As a result, all downtown traffic has been funneled into alternative routes.

My alternative route, frankly, sucked.  I felt like Luke Skywalker following Wedge down into the trench of the Death Star as I banked into a sharp left turn onto I-71, then maneuvered through a narrow cement canyon as cars tried to merge in from the left.  I kept wondering when one of the speeding cars ahead would nick the temporary concrete barriers channeling the detour traffic and go tumbling off into oblivion, like one of the doomed Rebel X-wing fighters.  Fortunately, there was no Darth Vader lurking nearby — just frustrated commuters dodging the orange cones and dealing with constantly changing traffic patterns on their way to work.

This week I noticed that “closed” sign had been removed from the Third Street exit.  Yesterday, with hope in my heart, I bypassed the dreaded detour and gave Third Street a shot.  Sure enough, it was open, and I sailed regally into downtown with a happy sigh.  Of course, I didn’t see any changes that would justify closing the exit for months in the first place — but I’m just happy it’s open again.

Amazing how one little sign can change your day for the better.

The Elusive Alternative Route

The I-670 ramp to Third Street, which provides access from the east side to downtown Columbus, is closed for extensive repairs.  It will be closed for months.

It’s only one of thousands — make that hundreds of thousands — of highway ramps in the United States.  But for me, it’s perhaps the most important ramp.  Its closure means that my principal route to work, the one that has been ingrained into my brain and every fiber of my being after years of mindless commuting, is not available.  It means that I have to get out of my mental rut, abandon my snug comfort zone, and find another route to the heart of downtown Columbus during the morning rush hour.  It means I have to experiment with alternatives during a time of day when hastily selected alternative routes usually mean delay and disaster.

So far I’ve tried two options.  The planned alternative has the weird, jury-rigged feel you often get with traffic engineer reroutings.  You exit I-670 at I-71, follow a narrow, two-lane channel between temporary barricades, then make a hairpin two-lane exit onto Spring Street.  I’ve taken that route several times, two of which embroiled me in significant traffic jams.  The other option was an experiment that ended in colossal failure.  I exited I-670 one stop early, wound through some city streets, then found myself snarled in complete gridlock around the Columbus State campus.  I won’t be trying that option again.

I’m steeling myself for the challenge of finding that elusive alternative route that will take me smoothly downtown on uncongested streets.  In the meantime, I’m just going to brace myself — and leave 10 minutes earlier than normal.

Who Was Col. Wilbur C. Blount?

Recently the stretch of I-670 that I drive on every workday was designated the Col. Wilbur C. Blount Memorial Highway. These kinds of things happen everyday, without anyone paying much attention. I’ve wondered who Col. Blount was, though, and the answer to that question turns out to be interesting.

Col. Blount was a colonel in the Ohio Air National Guard. He graduated from East High School in Columbus, then received his bachelor’s of science degree in bacteriology from The Ohio State University in 1951. At Ohio State, he enrolled in ROTC and was later commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. He received his medical degree from Ohio State in 1959 and served for years in the Air Force as a flight surgeon. He was promoted to Colonel in the Ohio Air National Guard in 1976. Col. Blount was the second state air surgeon of the Ohio Air National Guard and was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2004.

Dr. Wilbur C. Blount

Dr. Wilbur C. Blount

Although he achieved much as Col. Blount, he was, perhaps, more important to people as Dr. Blount, an ophthalmologist, educator, and active alumni of East High School. Dr. Blount specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the retina and practiced in the Columbus area for nearly 30 years. He worked at The Ohio State University Hospitals and at Grant Medical Center, and was a clinical instructor, and later clinical associate professor, at The Ohio State University Hospitals. At East High School, he helped to establish the school’s ROTC program, where he taught classes and sponsored and mentored students. His obituary, available here, quotes one of the students who received Dr. Blount’s help. By all accounts, Dr. Blount was one of those all-too-rare people who was a positive force for good in their community.

Col. Wilbur C. Blount died in May 2006, and the Ohio General Assembly named the stretch of I-670 after Col. Blount in April 2009. I think they made a very good choice.