The word on the street is the shoofly is in, at least temporarily

By the Broadway Curve Improvement Project Team

State Route 143 approaching Interstate 10Every once in a while, we come across some funny words in the engineering vernacular.  Recently, the word “shoofly” caught our ears when the construction tactic was deployed on the Interstate 10 Broadway Curve Improvement Project. 

We’d heard the word before. Many of us learned the words to the song “Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me” in primary school. But what does a nursery rhyme have to do with road construction?

To get our answer, we had to dig back a century or so into history.

The song “Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me” emerged in the 1860s, however, it was originally reportedly written by a soldier during the Civil War, according to multiple newspaper sources from the period. However, these newspaper sources don’t agree on exactly who wrote the song or the meaning of its lyrics. They do agree that it became widely popular among street performers and other entertainers popular at that time. 

What’s also known is that around the same time, railroad construction began booming in the United States. According to the Library of Congress, the number of railroad track miles tripled between 1871 and 1900, with much of that construction performed by crews of workers who entertained themselves during the long workdays by singing songs. There’s no record found that these workers specifically sang “Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me,” but given the song’s popularity at the time and its distinct beat, which helped workers stay on-task and keep pace with each other while building railroad tracks, we’d venture a guess that it made the rounds.

So maybe it’s not too much of a stretch that in the early 1900s, the Oxford English Dictionary shows that the term “Shoo Fly” began appearing in relation to railroad construction. The first newspaper articles to use the term in 1905 were out of Los Angeles and New York. These articles referred to the construction of a “shoo fly” to detour trains around obstacles on the track. Later articles defined the shoofly as a bypass on the track. All references cited by the Oxford English Dictionary refer to the shoofly as a temporary configuration – which brings us to today.

The term has evolved to be merged as “shoofly” and is now a commonly used term in roadway and railroad construction to describe a temporary road or track detour that allows traffic to continue flowing around a construction zone. 

That’s exactly what you’ll find on southbound State Route 143 just south of University Drive.  The shoofly is diverting traffic to the right for several hundred feet, to give I-10 Broadway Curve Improvement Project crews the space they need to build a new flyover ramp that will connect SR 143 and I-10. This shoofly configuration is expected to be in place until early 2023. Because of the curving movement of the shoofly, the speed limit in this area is reduced to 35 mph. Please keep this in mind when driving through the work zone.

Be sure to watch the Interstate 10 Broadway Curve Project’s Behind the Scenes video on the “Shoofly”, at this link.