There are plusses and minuses to everything in life. We really hate interstate highway driving, but sometimes, like now, it is the fastest way to drive from Point A to Point B. Point A is Cape Coral, Florida. Point B is somewhere in Eastern Canada with enough time left to drive slowly and see things before we have to head south again to attend a late June wedding in Philadelphia. It has been three days on Interstates and we are getting a little hostile — or perhaps it is because it is also the third day on the South Beach Diet.
Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower was an observer accompanying the First Transcontinental Motor Convoy from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco in 1919. It took them sixty-two days at and average 58.2 miles per day. Nine vehicles and 21 men failed to complete the trip.
General Eisenhower saw the German autobahn and wrote that his 1919 experience started him thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made him see “the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.” [In 2002, Ray was able to get a little Peugeot-400 up to 198 km/hr on the autobahn but couldn’t make it go 200.]
President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, dedicating funding for The National Highway Defense System, known since 1990 as the Dwight David Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and marked with signs showing the five stars he wore as General of the Army during World War II.
If an interstate highway runs north-south, it is given an odd number, and if it runs east-west, an even number. For north-south routes, numbering begins in the west. Thus I-5 runs north and south along the West Coast, while I-95 runs north and south along the East Coast. For east-west routes, numbers begin in the south. These long runs have single or two digit numbers. Routes that travel around a city have three-digit numbers
The longest east-west route, I-90 from Seattle to Boston, is more than 3,000 miles. I-95 from Miami to Maine is nearly 2,000 miles long and passes through the 13 original colonies, Maine, Florida and the District of Columbia. New York has 29 interstate routes, the most in any one state.
Why I hate them: It is dangerous to go sightseeing on an Interstate; defensive driving is critical. At seventy miles per hour under ordinary conditions, it can take more than a thousand feet to stop. And many Americans frequently travel up to ten miles an hour over the speed limit, led by NASCAR “wannabees” tailgating and lane-changing with abandon as they weave down the road.
Americans also talk on the phone while driving. They eat and even read while driving. Driving patients on I-75 to the VA hospital in St. Petersburg, FL, I often can spot a driver on the phone far ahead. They think they are in control, but their car is all over and frequently even outside their lane. Their speed is uneven. It has gotten so bad that in one instance, when a lady swerved into our lane, the passengers on the van shouted in unison “she’s on the phone.”
But nothing is all bad: America is homogenized on the Interstates. You see one interstate restaurant and you have seen them all; every motel is like a version of every other one. The roadway is often boring.
But there can still be some great scenery, so I have started another list. Some are engineering beauties, others are scenic. I actually hope not to see too many of them. I would rather spend time on back roads, but I welcome any suggestions.
- The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Florida’s Tampa Bay is beautiful, especially in the early morning sun.
- North Carolina has planted lovely wild flowers in the medians.
- The soft subtle colors of the Atlantic coast marshes in Georgia.
- I am told California and Hawaii Interstates have great Pacific Ocean views
- But while “Alligator Alley,” I-75 through from Naples to Miami has great views of the Everglades, I’d rather go slowly along U.S. 41.
- One I would like to see: the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument near Kearney Nebraska , a 1,500-ton structure spanning 308 feet across I-80.designed to resemble a covered bridge.
By the way, it is a myth that the law requires straight portions on the highways so that they can be used as airplane runways although there have been small planes that landed on them in emergencies.