Our Nation's Roadways

>> Friday, October 2, 2009

This topic is so vast ... our nation's roadways. I've spent a lot of time in automobiles, driving across vast stretches of this country (although most of it was east of the Mississippi, not all of it has been). On my travels, I've made some observations, and I am wondering how true you might find these.

Atlanta, Georgia. Apparently, no matter how much you might wish or need to, if you are stuck south of Atlanta during rush hour, there is no way around but through. I guess whenever the city roads developed, no one considered that there might be anyone that wanted to go ... say ... west of Atlanta. I guess they thought that the only interesting places to go were north or back to Florida? I can see their point, but I was trying to get from Tampa to St. Louis, and hanging out south of Atlanta wasn't in the cards for me, and a 3 hour traffic jam around the city was not in the plan! We found a small and windy road (that would be the narrow and twisting kind of windy, not the big breeze kind) that eventually led us to Tennessee, but I'm not sure that waiting in the traffic jam wouldn't have been faster.

Have you ever noticed that when you cross the Mason Dixon line from Maryland to Pennsylvania the quality of the road immediately deteriorates? When I used to live in Pennsylvania, PennDot used to blame the road conditions on the difficult-to-manage "freeze and thaw cycle." Okay. But 2 miles in either direction from the state line, aren't Maryland and Pennsylvania in the same freeze and thaw cycle? I'm more inclined to think that the poor road conditions are there to slow down the bootleggers so more of them get caught smuggling cheap liquor in from Maryland. On the other hand, if you've looked at the prices recently, they aren't all that different anymore ... Maryland just sells them in more convenient places.

I have not yet joined the world of modern technology enough to buy an EZ Pass (says the woman publishing a blog on the internet). Either that or I like to be shocked by how much money I pay in tolls every trip .... Regardless, I am always befuddled at why the Ohio Turnpike has not joined the electronic revolution in any way. They still collect all tolls manually. Is this some sort of public job protection for the toll workers, or what? Or maybe Ohio is just telling us all that they don't really want us trucking through their state anyway? After all, the Ohio Turnpike is one of those places where they put the first visitor's center 40 miles inside the state line (on the PA side). If you want to get into Ohio as a curious visitor, apparently you have to really want it. They don't give those tourist brochures away to just anyone, you know.

While we are on the subject of turnpikes, how is it that the Pennsylvania Turnpike always seems to have at least 1/3 of it under construction at any given time? I mean, seriously, at some point you'd think the Commonwealth would just give up and start blaming the freeze and thaw cycle like they do with the rest of the roads, wouldn't you? Then again, there is that old Pennsylvania joke that there are really only three seasons in the Keystone State: Football, Winter, and Construction.

If we move past Ohio into Indiana, we find one of the most curious phenomena I have ever seen in all of my travels. The state stretches in the dark. In the daytime, you can cross it in no time at all. At night, that skinny little state at least triples in size, and the more tired you are, the longer the state becomes. I distinctly remember one trip where I was swearing up and down that I'd made the trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in half the time it took me to get across Indiana. That's pretty amazing to me. That's even more impressive than the magical stretching Route 322 that makes the last 30 miles northwest into State College, Pennsylvania some of the longest minutes of my life.

The most confusing road signs in all of the United States, as far as I've seen, are those inside the gates of Walt Disney World. I've gotten so turned around there almost more times than I can possibly count, and I practically live there. I know more ways home from Walt Disney World than I do back roads in Pennsylvania. At least there are more street signs in Walt Disney World then there were in Amish Country, Pennsylvania, although people still give directions by reference point rather than street name. (Turn after the sign for the Yacht Club versus Turn left at the fork in the road past the old barn that burned down 10 years ago.)

The scariest roads in this country, that I've found so far, are in Hawaii. Some of the ones that tested my fear of heights to the utmost, so far, were in Lake Tahoe, although that is a close contest. I can't even pick where I saw the worst roads -- there were so many places to choose.

The place that has the most distorted view of distance and traffic is Kauai, HI. They honestly think that the other side of the island is a world away. The entire island would fit inside the Washington, D.C. beltway. You can be on the other side in half an hour.

Oh, I could go on and on about this one, but at some point I must simply say, "Enough!"


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