I’ve lived in the same house for 21 years. Needless to say, I have traveled most of the nearby roadways countless times.
Familiar routes are traversed with very little thought or effort. Some of the scenery I have passed for all these years remains relatively the same. About a mile from my house, however, dramatic changes began to occur a couple of years ago. Things will never be the same.
Anyone who has taken highway 49 north out of Northwest Arkansas headed for Missouri or Kansas is familiar with the bottleneck in the route as you pass through Bella Vista on old highway 71. That’s why the promise of a “Bella Vista bypass” has held widespread appeal for many years.
Eventually, people traveling 1-49 will sail along those northernmost Arkansas miles, right on into Missouri without even a blip in their conversation. I imagine a day when there will be nothing remarkable about the route that will evoke dialogue. No more mention of how much better this new route is. Very few mentions of the strange period of time when that confusing roundabout temporarily came on the scene, causing heightened attention and more than a few fender benders on a previously run of the mill stretch of roadway.
As I reflect back on the past phases of the construction of this highway interchange, and I look forward with great eagerness to its completion, the parallels with our collective COVID-19 journey begin to form in my thoughts.
Map created by Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department and available to view here.
There are plenty of parallels to consider. And no, I don’t mean parking.
Parallel #5 is especially on my mind recently.
Parallel #1: That big ugly circle in the graphic depiction of the interchange makes me think of the onslaught of images I have seen over the past year of this dang virus.
With regard to the roundabout, it came on the scene, caused some disruption for about a year, and then was completely torn out. There is no longer any trace of it. What a joyful day that will be related to the virus.
Parallel #2: The level of angst associated with the interchange construction project varies tremendously, as does the impact of the virus.
Living so close to the highway project, we have experienced the days of extensive blasting to clear paths through the rock formations as well as lane reroutes and closures. Others are much further removed from these events and may not even realize they are happening. While I have, of course, been inconvenienced by the coronavirus pandemic, my experience has been so far only second hand and absolutely minor compared to so many.
Parallel #3: The landscape around this highway interchange has been forever altered.
It’s hard for me to even remember what it looked before. When I hear anyone talk about “getting back to normal” after the pandemic, I think about this. In the same way that I have trouble remembering the tree-covered hillside that is now becoming a flowing ribbon of asphalt through a chiseled out rock formation, I think it will be harder and harder as time goes on to remember professional life without daily videoconferencing.
Parallel #4: Once the highway interchange project is complete, so many wonderful opportunities and experiences will be available.
The portion of the Razorback Greenway that is currently closed will reopen! I’m so excited for that day to come! Some businesses whose access has been limited will regain clientele who have stayed away for a while. The similarities related to the pandemic are obvious.
Parallel #5: The completion of the highway interchange does not make the route around Bella Vista on into Kansas and Missouri magically open up.
There is still an unfinished portion of highway between Hiwasee, Arkansas and Pineville, Missouri. Both states must complete their sections and do it in a way that it connects seamlessly to the work done by the other state. My mind is going to the coronavirus vaccine, the future ways of working, and all the other elements of our collective move forward plan. And you know what? I’m very optimistic! We can do this!!
As I watch the 18-wheelers navigate the cumbersome route that they currently must take through this construction zone, I imagine how eager they are for the direct route straight through to open up. I have found myself even cheering them on and encouraging them as they maneuver their rigs up the hill they must climb to get up onto I-49 after snaking through the tight turn and traffic light. As if they can hear me from inside my car!
I hope someone is cheering them on in ways they can hear. How about you? Who are you cheering on? Who needs you to be their Leader Worth Following as they search for light at the end of this pandemic tunnel?
Written by: Sandy Tush, Partner – Milestone Leadership