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. Mike says:

    # 2

    Boston you’re my home, well done.

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  2. Bob Stoloff says:

    My vote is for number 2. Not only do you contemplate falling through the potholes and into the water below, you also get to watch half the freakin’ population jump off the bridge every time the Red Sox lose a game.

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  3. Jeff W says:

    #7. The NJ highway system is like a box of chocolates — you never know where you’re going to get.

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  4. Anne W. says:

    #6 Mike

    Have you ever driven that stretch of highway in a pea-soup fog? Boredom vanishes, along with everything else. You can’t even see the exits in time to get off. The only thing to do is keep going, hoping there’s nothing slow in front of you and nothing fast behind you.

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  5. James F. Cook says:

    #4 Raj Pandravada for the poetry and #2 Brendan for the appropriate literery allusion, but they are all brilliant. Thanks. I am surprised no one wrote up contenders for I-80 between Richmond, CA and the Bay Bridge or “the 405″ anywhere – the only freeway I know that has traffic 24 hours a day, including 3 am on a weekday by LAX! Finally, the Nebraska one should be disqualified, because I-50 through Nevada is much less interesting and deserving of it’s name “The Loneliest Road in America”.

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  6. j.crew says:

    I see a common theme in all of the above comments: construction. At least in the northerly climes somebody somewhere has identified a problem and is intending to do something about it. Misguided intentions and faulty execution aside this is relative progress.

    I would like to nominate the great city of New Orleans to this list. The whole thing. Despite billions of dollars in federal infastructure money you still can’t drive more than a block in this city without wondering why you chose to embark to the grocery store on what feels like a 40 year old wooden rollercoaster. Sink holes big enough to put a refrigerator in are a regular occurance and it is difficult to go more than 30mph anywhere without feeling like you are doing serios damage to your automobile. The street buckles or sinks, some neighbor puts up a single cone and thats it life goes on, figure out how to drive around it. I would hazard to guess 10% of the city’s streets are totally impassable. Don’t even get me started on the feet of standing water in the streets when it rains or the zoolander worthy inability to make a left turn.

    I love this place, but don’t get me started on the roads.

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  7. Jacquie says:

    Ah, Mike and friends, you have no clue! Even in Nebraska, I-80 is NOT the most boring road! There is a stark beauty and during the great bird migrations a grandeur to the Platte River Valley. Try the Sand Hills through northern Nebraska. I once drove three days just in Cherry County! Even that area has some interest…eventually you get to the wagon train ruts of the Western migrations…even some 19th century graffitti.

    I’ve driven almost all of the routes nominated…and have lived in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, the Northern Plains, Ohio and Alaska and now in MN and AZ and traveled to every state in the Union (and DC of course). I think I would have to vote for Raj #4. If you try to drive up the Eastern Seaboard, Jersey becomes the choke point. Boston is awful; DC was even easy on Inauguration Day this year; and only a fool drives in NYC. So, my vote goes for the poetic paean to New Jersey’s critical role in making drivers despair…All of the Eastern Seaboard Highways could be the modern Inferno. Jersey is the deepest ring of motoring hell.

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  8. jep says:

    #10 the CBE

    ah yes the wasted time, the heat and the frustration. And the chips of cement falling from the overpasses above onto your windshield. Thank god you are only doing the standard
    3 miles an hour when that happens.

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