06 January 2009

Road work (and other viatology nonsense)

And now some good news.

Is it finally happening? Is the thirty years-too late widening of Interstate 10 from I-12 to Bluebonnet finally gwan happen?? Holy jiminy, break out the hooch!

This section of freeway is a disgrace. Oh, as a freeway it isn't too decrepit, even by Louisiana standards. But maddeningly the state has allowed it to remain in a four lane, essentially rural configuration, long after the waves of suburban development have washed through the vicinity and turning the facility into a daily parking lot - or a "parade" as one washed up ignorant traffic reporter round these parts has taken to calling the regular peak hour traffic jams here.

Well, you can stick your finger in other folks' faces. There is one more reason that I don't live out in suburbo-land. Another reason will be the narrowed, treacherous lanes that are a consistent feature of Louisiana construction zones. I used to drive through the Picardy extension construction daily and let me say that driving 50 MPH only inches from a sheer concrete wall is no fun.


This brings me to another recent project of mine: rating the freeways, by state!

What do I mean? It is plainly evident that some state highway departments invest substantial money in their highways, while others are content to get away with the bare minimum standards (that means you, DOTD). So while some states have top notch, award winning freeway systems, other states must remain content with the dregs of trafficdom.

There are three essential criteria for comparison of infrastructure between jurisdictions: quality, extents, and level of development . These have been established as the baseline for my ratings.

So here are the top five freeway states:

1) Texas: Where else but the land of the ALL NEW AND IMPROVED! Katy Freeway and the High Five, two of the seven engineering works of art of the world? Texas is not shy about investing in freeway infrastructure. They are also not shy about rebuilding them to a quality level when the time comes. Finally, the ubiquitous frontage road has established the Texas freeway not only as a transport corridor, but a venue for commerce. So three cheers for the Lone Star State!

2) California: Though the legendary freeways of California are now old, crumbling, and overcrowded, nevertheless the Golden State possesses a substantial freeway investment. Let us not forget, too, that California essentially invented the modern freeway as we know it. The limited access facilities of the West Coast could sure use some love, though.

3 (tie) Michigan and Illinois: Not actually surprising, because indeed this is the heartland of autodom. Michigan invests money in its highway transportation system - not only its freeways, but its surface arterials which from the looks of it are some of the largest I have encountered. Illinois birthed the concept of the superwide freeway with the Dan Ryan Expressway, and has not shied from the freeway solution elsewhere. Both states are covered by an almost saturation level freeway system that should put other states to shame.

4 (tie) Florida and Georgia: Rapidly catching up to its Sunbelt brethern, Florida's claim to freeway glory is not so much based on the content of its facilities, but on their number - despite heavy government land use regulation, the toll road has become a viable transportation solution for its expanding cities. In Georgia's case, the mileage of freeways may be low overall, but Atlanta's eighteen lane glories alone bring this state into the top tier of freeway states.

5) New Jersey: Perhaps the ultimate freeway state outside CA and TX, New Jersey has a long and storied highway history, commencing with the Pulaski Skyway and culminating with the New Jersey Turnpike. The state falls substantially in ranking, however, for neglecting to complete their section of I-95.

And now the ignoble bottom five:

5) New Mexico: The Louisiana of the Southwest, New Mexico is also known as a state that likes to skimp on highway signage.

4) New York: Many miles of freeway, but so many of them are substandard or undersized. (Or better yet, don't admit trucks.) Admittedly New York got an early start on the freeway sweepstakes thanks to Robert Moses. But come on - in that multibillion dollar budget, couldn't the Empire State spare some cash to perform some serious upgrades to some of its aging facilities?

3) Pennsylvania: All I can say is, just look at the scant freeway systems of the state's two largest cities, or the outdated quality of the state's most important limited access thoroughfare. Need I say more? Oh yes I can: Breezewood!!!

2) Arkansas would have been at this location, but I hear their freeways are much improved now, and to boot their capital city has an actual freeway system that cities twice its size would kill for. Anyway...

1) Louisiana: Let it not be said that I look with special favor on my home state! Seriously, I have observed freeway and highway systems around the country, and there is no doubt that we very much deserve our perennial last in the country ratings. The urban freeways of the state's largest cities are of a state of development that other states usually reserve for their less significant centers. (I of all people should know this, as I live directly adjacent to one of the state's oldest freeways, preserved in pristine 1955 condition.) The DOTD hasn't poured a foot of concrete for a brand new freeway facility since the late 1990s, at least outside of the Shreveport area. Where other states build expressway bypasses around their towns, the DOTD routes major highways through town on "urban" segments which become dilapidated very quickly. (You know there's got to be some payoffs going on there.)

Freeway reconstruction work that would take a year and a half in Texas drags on for decades here. One year the state will put in the grading for the overpasses, and maybe five years later they will start placing the piers for the overpass. And who knows, maybe in another decade hence the support beams will finally be installed!

But there are some positives, few that there are. Unlike any other state we have mastered the art of the bridge. By necessity, of course, because of our obvious topographical issues, and in the face of criminally massive state incompetence, but Louisiana builds bridges like nowhere else on earth (except maybe for coastal China).

And it makes our tourist friends from places like Buffalo and Cleveland feel right at home. After all, who said the Sun Belt couldn't equal the Rust Belt in terms of the misery index?

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