Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Long, Strange Trip

Summer Vacation, an American institution if ever there was one, has changed considerably over the years with the introduction of the automobile and the US Interstate system. The Interstate Highway System is fifty years old this week, having been begun by Dwight Eisenhower's administration in July, 1956. It served the country well for most of those fifty years, in directing traffic from suburbs to city, from city to city, and around the country. The system was simple in it's spoke-like, hub design, directing traffic around and to the inner cities, which were the hubs of the traffic patterns. Traffic has changed considerably, though, in modern America. The system has lagged behind.

Originally, this system worked well because traffic patterns were focused on commutes from outside the cities to the inner cities, as people generally worked there and lived in the suburbs. Now, however the suburbs are where much of the work is and traffic patterns have changed. The funding for our transportation system is still largely the same as it was in the fifties, also, and it doesn't reflect these changed traffic patterns and has no method of responding to them, either. Many people think a user-paid system would be preferrable to our current funding, and would reflect the usage patterns more accurately, thereby allowing the system to more accurately respond to changes in patterns. Toll roads would be paid for by those using them, and not foisted upon those who will probably never even see them, ala the Bridge to Nowhere. This would shift the payment of roads to the users and eliminate much of the congressional pork we're all so tired of seeing.

My family and I recently went on vacation. We travelled from Michigan through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio, before returning to Michigan again. It was a great trip and we enjoyed ourselves despite the hours of driving and stays in questionable motels along the way. We visited Mammoth Caves and the Heaven Hill Distillery (18 year old Elijah Craig, mmmm-mmm!)in Kentucky; Asheville, the Biltmore House, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina; Bristol Tennessee; Clintwood, the Ralph Stanley Museum and in Ohio, having driven through West Virginia on the Robert Byrd Highway at the fastest possible speed allowed by law.

During most of this nearly two thousand mile trip, the driving was unhindered and enjoyable. I highly recommend the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina as one of the most beautiful and enjoyable drives I've ever encountered. In most of the states we visited, the roads were well-maintained and the signage was accurate and sensible. All of that ended, of course, when we entered Ohio. I've always marvelled at Ohio's road system. It seems intended to cause travellers woe at every turn. Detours and construction are everywhere and the signage announcing turns on detours is all but non-existent. travelling on State Highway 2, towards Toledo, we literally never saw a sign announcing directions to I-75, until we were ON I-75! This is the most travelled Interstate in the eastern half of the country, and yet, Ohio's Transportation Department feels that no one traveling towards it, really needs to know how to get on it. Incredible! But, I digress...

One click on the link to the Robert Byrd Highway should give everyone an idea of why I would favor a user-funded (toll roads, private or state-run)method of highway maintenance over our present system. I know during this summer vacation season many others have driven our national roads for hours, as I have, so I'll put it to you: What say ye?


camojack said...

Well, I spent quite a few hours on the Interstates this past weekend myself. They're a great way to cover serious distances ASAP.

Of course, for really enjoying the countryside, they just don't cut it...

Beerme said...


Yes. The starkest difference during our trip was that between the Interstates and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The BRP is a very scenic and leisurely drive (max speed 45 mph), which provides views and stops that allow leisurely enjoyment of the incredible natural environment.

I highly recommend it for a quiet and enjoyable ride. I saw many groups of motorcyclers on the BRP, heading stop-to-stop, taking it all in at an easy pace.