Do We Need the Interstate Highway System in America?

JRP Reflecting

Reflection – written July 1, 2002

I had long wanted to take a trip from my weekend retreat in Pennsylvania down to southern New Jersey to visit my mother and then back to my home in Connecticut — all without using the Interstate Highway System. An extensive study was done entitled “40 Years of the US Interstate Highway System: An Analysis”, but my study was to be a motorcycle ride to see for myself. I am not really a “road geek”, I just wanted to see for myself what it would be like and how long it would take.
It’s a forecasted to be a hot day with highs in the 90’s and the possibility of thunderstorms. I departed at 10 am from Greentown, Pennsylvania and headed south on route 507 with the Garmin StreetPilot pointing to Pennsville, New Jersey. It would be 126 miles the way the crow flies. The Street Pilot shows color maps and, although it doesn’t tell you when and where to turn, it would always be pointing precisely at Pennsville. I purposely did not do much planning — I would just use a form of “dead reckoning”, pick interesting “back roads” and use the GPS to confirm that I was heading in the right general direction. My adventure had begun.
The early phases of the trip were very enjoyable. I picked up route in New Foundland, Pennsylvania and continued south. It was absolutely beautiful weaving through the hills, mountains and along the creeks and rivers of northeastern Pennsylvania. It was fun to see the various farms, businesses, homes, people to wave to, and other scenes that I don’t normally notice when driving a car.
Avoiding the interstate highway system was no problem — until I got to East Stroudsburg. This was the point at which it was time to cross over from Pennsylvania into New Jersey. I knew there was a bridge there, but didn’t recall that it was connected to Interstate 80 on both sides. So for a short few miles, I was on the interstate system.
I took the first exit I could after arriving in New Jersey and shortly thereafter found myself crossing back over a bridge I didn’t know about into Pennsylvania! At this point, I decided to continue down Route 611 which meanders along the Delaware River which separates Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I’m glad I did — it was a beautiful ride. I arrived in Easton, Pennsylvania, crossed back over a bridge into New Jersey and used dead reckoning to find my way through Phillipsburg, back into the countryside of North Jersey and headed down route 519. I stopped at a Citgo gas station and food mart for some gas and a sandwich.
I am now 70 miles from my destination, the way the crow flies — probably closer to 100 miles the way the roads go.
I continued along the Delaware River — but now on the New Jersey side. There are many historical sites along this route. I passed by Washington Crossing State Park and it conjured up an image of the famous picture of the General in the boat with his aides rowing him across the river. Beautiful historical homes were in abundance and later the gold dome of the capitol of New Jersey in Trenton came in view. I had a patriotic feeling for this whole phase of the trip.
Then it was into real South Jersey. No more big buildings. No more mountains or hills visible in any direction. Corn fields, barns, farms, farmhouses, and flat roads make up much of this part of the world. One of the most impressive historical towns in New Jersey is Haddonfield. Cruising down Main Street was a treat — stunning 200+ year-old homes with American flags and flowers everywhere. It was a real treat. I arrived at Mom’s place around 4 PM — odometer reading was 187 miles. That meant that there was about a sixty mile and three hour penalty for my adventure but it was well worth it. The return trip was a different story.
The forecast was hazy, hot, and humid. All three turned out to be true. The day was to be a brutal endurance test. I was at times tempted to get on the Interstate and shorten the trip but I resisted. The trip started out with a ride by the house where I grew up and then off into the countryside. Flat roads and a lot of farms. This lasted for about an hour but as I headed up the fiddler of the state the population, the traffic, the congestion, all increased dramatically. I got to see the inner-city view of North Brunswick and other cities in the Northern part of the state. Route 202 was part of my plan but I learned that in some places it just stops. No signs, no detours, just an end where another route picks up. Using my GPS I continued east or west and then north and eventually picked up 202 again. This happened several times. I made a number of mistakes in judgment but eventually got to the top of the state. I didn’t want to take the George Washington or Tappan Zee bridges to cross the Hudson River so I continued north through the beautiful Harriman state park to Bear Mountain and then across the river. The last part of the trip was on route 301 which goes from Cold Springs to Carmel. It is a lot of curves and was a joy on the bike — although it would have been better if it had been cooler.
I stopped four times for a soda or water and to stretch. The trip would have been 185 miles by the Interstate System — my trip was 270 miles and took eight hours. I am glad I did it but won’t be anxious to repeat it for awhile! Do we need the Interstate Highway System? . I don’t believe for one second that we can do without them anymore than we can do without the train system or our airline system. My adventure made me appreciate the back roads, communities, and ways of life I witnessed. The physical drain of the trip made me appreciate the efficiency of the alternative. It’s a good thing the nation’s commerce doesn’t depend on back roads and motorcycles.
Related links…
I discovered with a simple Google search that there are vast resources about every aspect of roads and highways. See Personal Road and High Pages for example, orHistory of the US Highway System. There is even a Road Geek E-mail list.

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