What happens when you have interstate level traffic that runs through the main section of a town?
You get Highway 281 (also known as Nueces Street in George West and Harborth in Three Rivers).
One of the pleasant surprises I discovered when moving to South Texas was that Interstate 37 wasn’t nearly as crowded as Interstate 35 (also known as the North America Free Trade Superhighway linking Mexico to Canada).
I-35 runs through San Antonio and Austin, the Central Texas towns of Temple and Waco before splitting in two with options to continue east to Dallas or west to Fort Worth before those routes rejoin again before I-35 goes into Oklahoma.
It was refreshing not to have bumper to bumper traffic at all times on I-37, although there are certainly times when it is plenty busy.
Why is I-37 traffic usually much lighter than I-35?
Well, one big reason is that a significant amount of traffic veers off of the interstate and onto Highway 281. Linking San Antonio with the Rio Grande Valley, Highway 281 goes through the heart of Live Oak County.
Traffic is so steady on 281 that it could also be likened to a modern-day version of Route 66. It’s not an interstate and has that old school flair of running right through many communities — most notably our own George West and Three Rivers.
This is a blessing because it brings a lot of commerce to our community. While driving between points north and points south, many travelers choose to visit our local restaurants, gas stations and other businesses. That’s definitely a good thing.
The challenge comes in the added traffic and all which that entails. During my first visit to The Progress office in late November, Beeville Publishing’s Jeff Latcham could not easily turn left out of the parking lot of the Bellows Building because of heavy traffic. He had to turn right, then turn down Alexander Street before finally circling back to Highway 281 via Thornton Street.
That was a sneak preview of the continuous traffic roaring up and down 281 every day. There are many 18-wheelers which roll through town and sometimes seemingly shake the door or windows of the office.
I see people walk across 281 in Three Rivers sometimes, and I fear for their safety.
Back in the 1980s, one of the popular video games I remember was “Frogger.” In that game, you took on the role of a frog that was attempting to cross a busy street, and failure resulted in your fearless amphibian being splattered on the road by unforgiving traffic. I definitely don’t want to see that same scenario repeated in real life!
I am thankful when I see the police of Three Rivers and George West pull speeders over when they blast through town.
It’s not that I want anybody to get a ticket, but there are some people who ignore speed limits and rumble through town like they are part of a race.
That’s one thing when it comes to an interstate, but quite another when it comes to the safety of our communities.
Seeing the police enforce the speed limits of our communities is a comforting reminder that someone is in control, and it makes the asphalt jungle seem a little bit safer.
A former co-worker of mine at the Waco Tribune-Herald once drove Interstate 35 from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada and wrote about his experiences.
That same opportunity would exist on 281, which spans 1,875 miles from Brownsville near the border with Mexico to the International Peace Garden in North Dakota at the American-Canadian border. That would certainly make an interesting travelogue or series of stories one day.
It’s a great thing to have 281 rolling through our county, and at the same time, it can be a little daunting.
I can only imagine what things were like during the days of the oil boom. It’s scary to think about I-35 level traffic crowding onto 281.
With that type of real-life challenge, who needs the thrill of a video game when crossing the road makes a game of Frogger look like ... well, child’s play.
Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. A Texan since 1973, he has worked for Texas newspapers for 24 years.