12A vs. the Chunnel: Are 20 Seconds Worth $20 Million?

Things were dead even and all smiles when we started.

Does the $20 million chunnel that links the Kmart and the Kohl's/Penney's shopping plazas in West Leb really save time? And if so, how much? You have pressing questions about getting around the Upper Valley. We're here to answer them.

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We flipped a coin. Mark Travis got Route 12A. Rob Gurwitt got the chunnel. Tom Haushalter lined us up at the entrance to the Kmart Plaza on a weekday at 4 p.m. And the race -- obeying all traffic laws, honest!  -- was on. The finish line was Kohl's, which is in the back corner of the Upper Valley Plaza and so didn't give an advantage to either driver.

You should know that this story has a winner and a loser--but really, we both won. Because now we know. Here's how it went. 

Tom Haushalter waves the flag (or, well, the DailyUV t-shirt) to start us off

The take from Route 12A

I believe that Route 12A is the work of traffic engineers who enjoy crushing the dreams that good people harbor. There's no other possible explanation for it.

I got off to a rolling start, hitting the green light with no one in front of me as I turned right from the Kmart Plaza onto 12A. Ahead, nothing but wide open spaces. So I gunned it, approaching 20 mph for, oh, I don't know, let's call it 100 yards.

It was awesome.

But I was on 12A. Where you only need one bad thing to happen, and it always does.

Sure enough, as I approached the first of three traffic lights between me and victory, it turned red. I pulled up behind two cars and a pickup. The Camry directly ahead had a "Baby on Board." That's nice. I like babies. 

We sat.

And we sat.

Then we sat some more.

It was 30 seconds, give or take, before I moved again. Almost enough time to jump from my car, change the baby's diaper, and get back behind the wheel.

Nothing but green after that. But I was done for. When I pulled up to the finish line, Rob was hanging out there waiting, all casual like. It's okay, though. It's not like he's going to taunt me over it.

-- Mark Travis

Chunnel of dreams

Pretty different from 12A, huh? But it was not all smooth sailing. Oh, no, not by a long shot.

As the light at the entrance to Kmart Plaza turned green, Mark gunned it onto the main road. But that same green light also gave the... well, the green light... to four -- FOUR -- cars that might as well have been strolling along whistling as they moseyed into the parking lot. I waited for them to pass. 

Once I could head toward the Chili's, though, the way was clear. I rounded the curve, then made the left by the new Sears Appliance Center and saw what you see above.

I won't say I chortled, but I chortled. The stop sign just past the underpass added a couple of seconds, but I just knew Mark was fuming at some traffic light, so I didn't mind.

But then..... Penney's!

With shoppers exiting!

Slowly pushing a stroller filled with goods!

Now, I like shoppers. They make the American economy hum. These people, however, were in my way. Still, I stopped, taking a moment to admire their consumer chops. But only a moment. 

I wish I could say that I fought the rest of the way tooth and nail, clawing my way to the finish line in a dramatic display of guts and parking-lot bravado. But no. I rolled serenely to the corner, found a parking space, and joined up with Tom by the entrance to Kohl's. Together, we watched Mark make his way toward us.

The final times? 1:32 for me, 1:52 for Mark. 20 seconds. 

Was that worth $20 million? Only you can judge. But for me? Oh yes. Because I'm never, ever going to let Mark forget it. 

-- Rob Gurwitt

When you're waiting, 20 seconds seems like FOREVER

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