Archive for the ‘Driving’ Category

I-70 and I-76: a driver's nightmare

My job is writing, and right now I write mostly for one of the top three Japanese automakers. While I have no mechanical ability and can do little more to a car than add fluids and change the spare tire, I do understand cars from a marketer’s perspective. I also drive a lot: since June 2007 I have put 37,000+ miles on my Prius (I have not regreted buying that car!).

I will start off by conceding that the stretch of interstate lying between the eastern border of Ohio and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and comprising parts of I-70 and I-76 is not the worst road I have ever experienced, nor the scariest. That honor belongs to the part of I-80/94 between Merrillville, Indiana, and where I-80 and I-94 go their separate ways. This latter stretch of interstate is a congested, truck-bulging, suicidal nightmare, full of wrecks and intimations of wrecks.

But I-70 and I-76 in the geography described above (hereafter, “the Road”) truly is awful, as I experienced on my recent trip to and from New York City. Let me tell you what you get.

Enjoy road construction in every conceivable form

They are repairing the Road the whole way through, it seems, but not all at once. Every five to ten miles, the bag-ballasted orange-’n'-white signs convey a new warning. Half the time, these signs, along with their friends the speed limit sign and the threat sign (FINES DOUBLED), seem to guard nothing at all. Half the time, there is some actual work going on, constricting the usable surface area of the road and producing white-knuckled driving environments.

I don’t like dodging cones and other doodads placed down the middle of the two-lane freeway–scratch that, make that doodads placed a little within your lane, forcing you to drive uncomfortably close to the wall that serves as the median (more on this in a sec). I don’t like driving half in the lane, half on the shoulder of the road, which I also experienced.

When I drove back home at night, all the yellow arrows and other flashing things were almost pretty.

Watch out for the median, which is a wall

Instead of a grassy median, for a good part of its length the Road sports a wall made out of those concrete spacer things. This means that there is no shoulder for the left lane, and when you are passing slow trucks and whatnot your side view mirror threatens to scrape the wall (of course, the distance is probably greater than it appears, but it is still an unusual and uncomfortable driving environment. It is terrifying to imagine what would happen if a wreck occurred). This also means that, when you are in the left lane, opposing traffic feels a wee bit close.

I am genuinely curious why the government could not construct a highway with a grassy median in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. To be sure, a lot of the Road is in the mountains, and perhaps it was cheaper and easier to do it the way they did, but as I looked around most of the time there seemed to be no reason for no median.

Visit the wilderness of Pennsylvania

It’s a great state and all, but your experience of it on the Road will be big and boring. Most of the time you will be on a toll road that goes through no big cities. The mountainous scenery is not particularly impressive, yet the driving environment the geography creates is rather stressful. Exploded deer are common (at one point in my recent journey I saw a bright crimson circle whose diameter crossed both lanes, accompanied by chunks of scattered flesh identified as venison by inductive logic, not by visual recognition).

In short…

It’s a long, boring, and stressful drive. I recently drove from Indianapolis to Lincoln, Nebraska; as boring as that was, it was a far less stressful, far more pleasant experience.

One more thing…

What’s with the preachy yellow signs in Pennsylvania? SLOW DOWN, SAVE A LIFE. Uh, I’m doing the speed limit–isn’t that slow enough? BUCKLE UP EVERY TIME. I do! There are more, but I can’t recall them.

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