Arrow-right Camera


Doug Clark: Traffic barrier really just grand prix starting line

Tue., Aug. 10, 2010

Monday morning – 9 a.m.

I am parked in my old Jaguar at the bottom of the Altamont hill, conducting undercover surveillance on a phenomenon I find both curious and entertaining.

And that is the resilience of South Hill drivers. Namely, the way we fast-and-furious motorists have adapted to an imposing, orange-and-white striped barricade that suddenly got in our faces.

Zoooommmm …

It’s like it ain’t even there.

That’s saying something, too, because this barricade blocks the entire southbound lane and a tad more.

Not to mention that it comes with orange warning lights and an ominous “road closed” sign that hangs from the blockage in a stern warning.

You’d think that might give a driver a moment of pause.

After all, if you encountered a sign like that during, say, a trip through the Alps, you might slow down or take a detour out of fear that forging ahead at warp speed could lead to YOUR DEATH!!!

We South Hillers don’t scare easily.

As I have observed during my stakeout, many southbound drivers have learned to whip around the barricade and into the northbound (descending) lane in one fluid flip of the wheel.

After making this initial move, the trick is to cross back over the double-yellow line and then beat cheeks up this steep hill that curls near the top, leaving drivers blind to what may be powering down upon them.

• 9:02 – A low-slung white sports car negotiates the barricade without stopping and tears upward like a racer.

I became aware of the Altamont Grand Prix the other day while heading to work.

I live in the general area. (No, I’m not giving up my address. And if you got the e-mails I do you wouldn’t either.)

So I knew that the barrier was put there due to an ambitious construction project that is tearing up Ninth Avenue from Hatch Road to maybe Post Falls.

(Who knows? My brain is cluttered enough without adding some boring roadwork details.)

The point is that I believe this attempt to thwart ascending “thru traffic” and increase safety has actually amped up the deep desire in some people to be NASCAR drivers.

• 9:12 – A blue minivan snakes the barricade like a pro and tears up the hill. You go, Mom!

See, I think I speak for many of my South Hill neighbors in saying that we have it pretty good.

Most of us are employed. Some of us, in fact, are downright comfy.

What I’m saying is that, well, it’s easy to get the blahs.

This barrier gets the adrenaline and gasoline flowing.

The barricade is only part of the fun. The road project has heavy construction rigs going up and down Altamont hill all the livelong day.

Some of these babies are the size of ore trucks, too.

So not only do we have the zebra fence to play with, but also the possibility of getting smashed into smithereens via release of mass and moment from one of those oncoming brutes.


Tired of car watching, I call the field office for the city’s construction management.

I reach Clyde Clutter, a good-natured man. Drivers disrespecting road signs is a not uncommon problem, he tells me.

Sometimes, he adds, “they even get out of the car and move them (the barricades).”

Remember the project that turned Third Avenue into a moonscape a few years back? Clutter says some drivers not only ignored the signs, but drove the wrong way on the one-way street.

And here I thought America’s pioneer spirit was long gone.

• 9:40 – A tan compact slaloms the barricade like an Olympic skier and manages to miss a northbound Subaru by about a car length.

Surveillance work is tedious. My stay here has given me pity for gumshoes who peep on cheating spouses for a living.

Here’s a thought: Our city street experts could man the barricade with senior citizen sentries.

I realize this could be dangerous. But the SPD could arm the old volunteers with spare Glocks from the departmental weapons room.

Radical. Outmaneuvering geezers packing heat would add another thrill level to this joy ride.

I’ve seen enough. It’s time to head back up the hill for home.

The barricade looms in front of me.

Do I slow down? Do I play it safe and sane?

Or do I act like one of the lead-footed fools running the Altamont Grand Prix?

Hey, I’m driving a Jag. Whattayou think?

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at

There are two comments on this story »