Paved With Good Intentions: The Finalists

It wasn’t easy picking the finalists for our “Worst Roads in America” competition, but our intrepid judges Genevieve Giuliano and Mohja Rhoads, top transportation scholars at the University of Southern California, made their decisions and selected the posts below. Now it’s up to you to vote for the winner in the comments section.

1. Vicki

The on-ramp to the Beltway near the Woodrow Wilson bridge headed out of Alexandria, Va., into Maryland made me meditative. This scenic two-mile stretch of the on-ramp to I-495 has been a favorite place to while away an hour or two in my car pondering Buddhist philosophy as I watch a caterpillar crawling past me and 300 other cars stuck at the same intersection. Green light, red light. A fleeting chance to pass through three intersections. Another light change. Now the ethereal cacophony of honking drivers hoping to enter the on-ramp into I-495 rush-hour traffic at a rate of 5 miles per hour. Life is random and beautiful. Construction workers on this stretch of road also lean to zen Buddhism as they examine the weather, the car dealership across the street, and each other, slowing the rhythm of their months of work.

2. Brendan

The Tobin

I take the road most traveled,
With pot-holes galore and water dripping,
The pavement shattered,
The workers lost and mingling.

I take the road most traveled,
With the two levels crumbling,
A two-hour commute with drivers enraged,
And the fast-pass gate shuttering after every car.

I take the road most traveled,
The tourists lost and clueless,
Backing out of the fast-pass lane confused,
With the road trembling all the while.

3. Daniel

The “Big Dig” — the megaproject to reroute Interstate 93, the chief highway through the city of Boston, into a 3.5-mile tunnel under the city — has amassed an infamous reputation. As the most expensive highway project in the U.S. — the total now stands at a staggering $22 billion — it gave cause for longtime Congressman Barney Frank to quip, “Rather than lower the expressway, wouldn’t it be cheaper to raise the city?”

What truly makes this among the worst stretches of highway in the U.S. is for all the project’s lofty aspirations of alleviating the chronic congestion on I-93 that was predicted to have 16-hour traffic jams by 2010, the project has incurred criminal arrests, escalating costs, death, leaks, poor execution, use of substandard materials, and has had negligible impact of traffic. As my mother would testify to, trips at rush hours are longer and more congested, rather than less.

4. Raj Pandravada

Sweet Eighteen: On the Miserable RT-18 Through New Brunswick, N.J.

Oh eighteen,
For so long
Under construction
You have been.
It’s been seven years, they say
Since you were last free.
Only one lane each way,
All dust and no glory,
You lay there bare
With bumps and potholes,
And no one seemed to care.
For my rattled nerves and bones
Lately it’s been kind of alright.
There have been some repairs,
Usually in the dead of night.
And yes, now the lanes come in pairs.
Fleeting, I am sure is this respite,
For I know that come winter will appear
Your tempestuous mood and dark side.
We’ve lost all hope, I fear.
Eighteen, you miserable route,
Taking us from Brunswick
To Route 1 North and South
And I-95 to the city.
But hey, that’s another messy story!

5. David D

Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, especially the stretch between 70th and 30th Streets, appears to be host not only to the Double Parking Championship of the World, but also, as a bonus event, the Triple Parking Championship of the World. That these prestigious events take place year round is a tribute to the borough, but for cyclists like myself they represent more than a little threat to life and limb.

6. mike

I am forced to nominate, as nobody has been brave enough to contemplate its horrors, the stretch of I-80 that runs through Nebraska. Iowa is somewhat flat, but at least there are things (barns) to look at. Colorado and Wyoming have mountains and other fun stuff like that. But Nebraska? Nebraska has a spirit-crushing desolation that stretches for six hours. Nebraska has signs that torture you with slogans such as “You are Nowhere.” Nebraska has roads so straight, flat, and boring that it slowly breaks you down until you’re ready to drive your car into a tree. Only problem is that you are in Nebraska, and there is nothing to drive your car into.

7. Eric Schwartz

No one should ever drink and drive. This maxim is rarely disputed. However, after becoming too familiar with the cluster “truck” that is the tangled morass of merges leading to the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City, N.J., I now truly worry about those drinking while paving. The result is just as dangerous and induces a similar pang of paranoia as each set of headlights bears down on you like a death horse bound to clip your trajectory at unholy angles and herald the coming of three more horsemen of the “Pulaski-lypse.”

Jersey City, this is an impasse as it is. Why not just rip it up and start over again? It would be safer as a molten gorge of blacktop surrounded by the famous N.J. “orange cones” than as the foyer to the afterlife that it is today.

8. Joe

When I first moved to Providence, I hoped that the on-ramp to I-195 East would be re-opened by the time I graduated. As the years ticked on, I thought it wise not to tell this to my adviser, for fear that he (conspiring with the DOT) would keep me from graduating. Now I have my Ph.D., and all I hope when I drive along Gano Street toward 195 is that one of the kiddie-pool-sized potholes will not swallow my Zipcar … or that if I am really lucky, maybe one of the concrete crevasses will return the tire, hubcap and all, that it ripped from my housemate’s car last winter. As snow and rain slowly shred the asphalt to gravel, this former construction site has turned into a destruction site. I’m leaving town this summer for a new adventure — if only I can find a ramp onto the highway.

9. Bill

There is a historical precedent to this nomination: it signaled a start to the end of British rule in the colonies. MA-2 is blessed with so much history: Walden Pond, Johnny Appleseed‘s route west, and the Minutemen’s first stand. But for my clan, everyone who came north from Florida had to ride this gauntlet with my cousin Mary Beth from Logan to Leominster. [It has] Narrow lanes with barriers designed to psychologically reduce speeds that appear to have no effect on the locals and those wondrous devices in lieu of traffic signals — the traffic circles, roulette wheels for adventurous visitors as round and round you go and where you come out only the Lord knows. It’s better than any Six-Flags ride and best enjoyed with rain or snow and a splash of Irish whiskey.

10. t paciello

The Cross Bronx Expressway. An oxymoron if ever there was one. It is a symphony of delay, dereliction, and despair. You get your first introduction by sitting in a cacophony of traffic at the George Washington Bridge toll plaza. The number of roads that funnel their cars to “the Bridge” look like a half-eaten bowl of linguine. Then the true nightmare begins as you hit New York City and begin the slow, desperate crawl through the Bronx. You can only wonder what Robert Moses was thinking when, like a kid with a shovel at the beach, he just dug a 100+ foot trench through the borough, displacing thousands of families so that hundreds of thousands of cars can crab their way at speeds upwards of 4 m.p.h. while being whipsawed by 48-foot tractor trailers arriving from points south and east after many hours of caffeine/Red Bull/?-aided driving alertness. Oh, and that is on a good day!

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  1. frankenduf says:

    this post has the most yuks per traffic story ive ever had- gotta vote for t paciello- dude, that linguine line cracked me up :)- cheers

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  2. Daniel says:

    I-495… Vicki’s choice. Absolutely no doubt about it!

    btw… I wonder if NYC roads are going to have an advantage, given the venue.

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  3. Carolyn in Baltimore says:

    While all the entries are horrific and poetic (and being from NJ w/ New Englander as family I have driven on many of these forsaken roads) I have to vote for Vicki’s entry in Virginia.

    Driving around DC in Virginia is what strikes the most fear and loathing into me, and yet Vicki was able to give me a new perspective on VA driving that I will attempt to emulate when next I am forced to drive there.
    Whiel Rt 18 in New Brunswick has always been hellish, and NY area ‘expressways’ are something to avoid if possible, my worst vision is of Northern VA traffic and the inability to get where you’re going in a Kafkaesque parody of driving.

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  4. Marc says:

    #2 is where its at

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  5. Scott says:

    Vicki gets my vote. Her “Zen and the Art of Transcendental Traffic” is a must read.

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  6. BobE says:

    in re 6….I once drove into a town in northwest Nebraksa and took a photo of a sign. It’s the standard “Attractions” sign that usually lists things like churches, malls, interesting exhibits (“Carhenge” in Alliance, for example). In the case of this town, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty…..they listed no attractions at all.

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  7. Leigh says:

    I am going to have to go with #6. We drove I-80 when we moved to California a few years ago, and I have never felt so alone in my life as I did along that interstate in Nebraska.

    However, if you are lucky to drive it during a thunderstorm (that accounted for about 1 of the 6 hours we spent on that road), it certainly breaks up the monotony. (Our son was hoping for a tornado…no such luck)

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  8. Jimbo says:

    I’m torn between the Tobin Bridge and Route-18. I grew up on NJ and currently live in Boston. Needless to say, both poets have created substance that are relevant to my everyday commuting struggles. I suppose I’ll hand my vote to #2 since it was the 1st one I read. Sorry Raj!

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