Road Would Take Us the Wrong Way

I was typing in the main office when a salesman stopped by to give our secretary his card. With an associate, he had recently opened a computer sales and serv­ice company in nearby Pendleton County, by area the least-populous county in West Virginia.

Here is another city refugee, I thought. But it surprised me that a computer business would be starting up so far away from an urban center. We chatted and, yes, the city life, the beltway grind, the fear of crime, the impersonal­ity of condominiums had gotten too depressing. He had washed his hands of it and headed for the hills.

I was well aware of what he was talking about. Over the holi­days I had traveled in the East, with stops in several cities. I hadn’t made this trip in some time, and I’d forgotten how cong­ested the seaboard is, from Wash­ington to New York becoming one big city, now closing together on the map in solid yellow.

On this trip, I also saw clearly for the first time how West Vir­ginia, though slightly removed, is also an Eastern state, a mere hop and a step from becoming tied into this massive congestion, as the Eastern cities—now connect­ed North and South—bulge west­ward for breathing room.

Unfortunately, that hop and step is about to be bridged with the probable construction of Cor­ridor H, which will link our interi­or with I-66 to D.C. and thus to the whole megalopolis; and, in a time shorter than we imagine, will make us a colony to it.

The first argument that got West Virginians behind this super­highway was, of course, the “free” federal dollars to build it. (We match one-fifth; but then pay all future maintenance.) Everyone except the smallest children knows that nothing is free.

The second argument was that it would bring jobs to our “poor” state. I asked the computer salesman if the highway coming had anything to do with his decision to locate his business in Pendleton County. He said no, but that he supposed it was a good thing, if it helped the area to grow.

“But,” I reminded him, “wasn’t it uncontrolled growth that drove you out of the city in the first place?”

“Oh, but we are a long way from that here,” he smiled. I re­plied: “It’s amazing how fast a su­perhighway will change the char­acter of a region. I don’t think there’s ever been one built, any­ place in the whole country, where, afterward, the local population was happy for it. And, further­more, it won’t really help the un­employment problem as everyone is saying.”

“Of course it will help,” my new acquaintance said. “Inter­state access will obviously encour­age business ventures and expan­sion. Thus more jobs.”

“But rapid business expansion also brings in outsiders to fill those new jobs,” I replied. Take for example the burgeoning chick­en industry in Moorefield, which, even in anticipation of Corridor H, has grown so fast in one year as to create serious in-town traffic jams, not to mention pungent air pollution and befouled rivers.

At first everybody wanted this expansion, crying a desperate need for new jobs so their kids didn’t have to uproot to the cities to find work. But what they didn’t realize is that jobs created here in quick, great numbers will also at­tract, equally quickly, great num­bers of job-seekers to compete for them. In today’s world, there will always be a job shortage. And for all its quality-of-life losses, Moorefield hasn’t improved its un­employment figures even a frac­tion of a percent.

“We have to keep trying, don’t we?” the salesman snapped. I re­plied: “But at the cost of one of the last truly great rural land­scapes in America? As they are, our towns are so colorful and per­sonal; and as for nature, three­-fourths of our state is magnificent enough to be made a national park.”

I said West Virginians should imagine a different future, as a place which promotes and pro­tects our special qualities. A place willing to pay a cost-of-living price for clean water, fresh air. A place with a balance of people, wild animals, fields and forests. A place where one knows one’s neighbors.

“Is it fair for us to come here and then close the door on oth­ers?” he challenged, starting to positively dislike me, I thought.

“Not close the door,” I clarified my position. “Rather not open the floodgates. Our lack of a super­highway is our best defense against uncontrolled growth. Our two-lane roads are like a winnow­ing device. The modern city per­son has become unadventurous and fearful of anything that isn’t fully automated, including roads. Even criminals are afraid of us. That’s why we can still leave our doors unlocked at night, and walk our streets in a relaxed way. Our simple roads discourage the very people we don’t want anyway.”

“Well, I’ll be going,” the sales­man excused himself. “Numbers of people, in and of themselves, don’t make a better life,” I yelled after the man out the door. “What we should be after is low numbers of high-quality people. Then the future will take care of itself.”

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