Detours strengthen your vocabulary

July 1, 2003
Construction delays make for one cranky editor

So I'm driving down Interstate 95, approaching New Haven, CT, on my way to New Jersey. Why drive instead of fly? From where I started to where I am going is a 31/2-hour trip. If I drove to the nearest airport, one hour, flew to the airport nearest my destination, one more hour, and then drove to my destination, another hour, and factoring in the airport delays, it would easily be a five-hour trip.

But why on I-95, which from New Haven south has to be one of the worst interstate highways in North America? Constantly under construction, this segment is a two-lane nightmare and, to compound it, it's raining and because of construction delays I'm right in the twice-a-day traffic jams that double the travel time.

There is a viable alternate, I-84, that takes me more West but still arrives at the same Hudson River crossing. Why didn't I? Habit. I take the ferry from Bridgeport, CT, to Long Island, NY, so my car just seems to follow the I-95 route from habit.

I missed any alternate Interstates that could connect me to I-84, so I pulled off I-95 at a service area to consult a map for potential secondary roads that could at least keep me moving toward my destination. While in the rest stop I was thwarted in an attempt to purchase an energy drink from a vending machine by the presence of about 100 touring high school kids who, lining up at every vending machine, are ignoring the entreaties of their chaperones who are trying to get them back on their buses.

No energy boost and no detour, just another 35 miles of stop-and-go traffic until the cross county I-287/87 connector to the Tappan Zee bridge leading to New Jersey. Lucky me, I hit this stretch just as the outbound New York City commuters do, so it's more bumper-to-bumper traffic and, oh joy, another 10 miles of construction detours, in what seems to be a decade of rebuilding this stretch of I-87.

I finally crossed the bridge to relatively smooth traffic and arrived at my destination, frazzled, out of energy, and asking myself why I didn't fly. Elapsed real time 41/2 hours—imagined time, an eternity.

Not for me a reverse of this trip returning home. I'll do the I-84 route, even though it's slightly longer and it's the start of a long holiday weekend. Prospects look good until I hit construction delays east of Bristol, CT. Stop and go for 45 minutes, more rain and getting low on gas and patience, makes this alternate route also look like a loser.

As I sit in one of a repetitive number of stop modes I wonder why each region in the U.S. doesn't have a traffic czar whose only function is to look at the big picture when road construction is contemplated. His job, keep the construction delays to a minimum on well-traveled, predictable routes, like those between New York City and New England. Thus, no I-95/287/87 construction when I-84 is under repair.

I know that the road construction timetable in the Northeast is controlled by weather so that any project has a five-month window for completion. But is it really necessary to tie up all traffic so that a 31/2-hour trip becomes a half-day excursion? Is this a plot by Amtrak to get us to use the high-speed Acela train, which, by the way, takes the same 31/2 hours?

I recall the similar frustration on a Friday afternoon trip from Strasbourg, France, to Munich when construction delays and no road alternatives added 90 minutes to the trip. That time my local host bemoaned the poor planning that allowed this to happen at the start of a busy weekend. So I expect it's an international problem.

Readers who know me are probably waiting for the tie-in to industrial lasers. Well no quirky segue this month. It occurs to me that this is vacation month for a large number of readers. So who needs more cute anecdotes turned into a case study? Also I need a break, so just read this, commiserate or bond with me, and have a safe vacation traveling the highways and byways this summer.

David A. Belforte
[email protected]

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