The route of Corridor H has been decided, and progress is on its way to the Potomac Highlands and central West Virginia. We are cutting a new swath into the 21st century. Or I should say “they” are cutting a new swath, for it is the federal government that is paying for most of the new superhighway.
Why shouldn’t it pay, since the highway is not really for West Virginians anyway? To think that we have to payout of our taxes one-fifth of the construction costs (now showing up in the new nickel a gallon on gas) and all the maintenance for this takeover—the joke’s on us.
However, country folk getting swindled by sophisticated city people is one of the oldest stories in the world. What a loss for the average West Virginian this new highway will be, slicing right through the heart of our state. If we had something unique about us, call it simply a slower way of living, that will be choked out by the rush of progress.
Soon we will start to go much faster, like the rest of the nation. To not lose our ground, we will have to. And a faster life, as always, is a more impersonal life. We will begin to know each other less. Our lives will fill up more and more with strangers, often self-important strangers, who will start to boss us around as if they owned the place. Because they will. We don’t appreciate how little money (i.e. power) we have, compared to those who will flow in from the outside to “develop” us.
The price of our land will rise far beyond our capacity to own much. With such increases will come higher taxes, until some people will be barley able to afford the land they already have. That will be one of the bitterest fruits of progress. We will be a bit like the Indian a century or two ago who got pushed further and further back onto less-desirable lands, once the developers, through roads, got better access to what the Indian had.
Some of the changes will come slowly, others lightning quick. A superhighway running near a town degrades the personality of that town fairly rapidly. For example, the local restaurants will have to compete with the Shoneys, McDonalds, Bob Evans, etc., that will blossom up around the exits. I was amazed, visiting Charles Town recently, to find but one “local” res taurant in the town’s interior, and it was doing so poorly that the restroom was out of order. All the restaurant business was out beyond the edges of town, at the chains clustered around the inter-changes.
Inexorably, with the growth of plastic culture comes increased crime. Per-capita, West Virginia has the lowest crime rate in the nation. Are we more morally upright here than other states? No. Are we so well off that crime isn’t a temptation? Certainly not. Rather we have the right proportions of people to keep life personal.
But now, with our superhighway, not only will crime start to find its way here (almost somnambulistically) from D.C. and points both closer and beyond, it will also start to breed within. Crime flourishes out of impersonal, autonomous lifestyles that Corridor H, willy-nilly, will promote.
Air quality and river quality will also go down. It’s already happened in Moorefield, with the expansion of the Wampler-Longacre chicken processing plant, which has exploded in development, even in anticipation of Corridor H. In less than a year, Moorefield has become a town with an unpleasant smell about it all the time. At first there were protests. Wampler had promised a clean operation. People cried out, What has happened to my beautiful town?
But already the voices grow quiet. People adapt, and once Wampler was in, it was not so obliging to answer to local people, only their higher-ups, the politicians, who, like the higher Wampler executives, live elsewhere, often not even in West Virginia.
Long ago, America said it would be a country of the people, by the people and for the people. We still pay lip-service to this principle. However, I doubt that the issues of Corridor H, in spite of the many “open” meetings, ever went to the West Virginia citizenry. These meetings were merely necessary “public relations” to make power decisions look as if they were arrived at democratically. At two “town hall” meetings I attended, the Division of Highways official had to be reminded from the floor, both times, that No-Build was also an option.
Not only the highway, but also the route it would take, I suspect, has been long known to special interests, which is why, a year ahead of the decision, Wampler knew the light was green to expand in Moorefield. Of course, as former President Bush knew in all of his Iran-contra illegalities, deniability is the political science of our current leaders: speak highly of democracy, then do what you please behind closed doors.