“Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.”— Clark Griswold, “Family Vacation.”
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act back in 1956, I doubt his vision of the future of that landmark project was anything close to what the freeway system has become 57 years later: thousands upon thousands of orange and white caution barrels and flashing lights.
I should know. Last weekend we embarked on a family road trip.
Kathy, her parents, and I loaded up my father-in-law’s Buick Ultra to visit our sister/daughter in Columbus, Ohio. The 829 mile trip to get there crossed five states and was supposed to take 12 hours.
I was not looking forward to it because I was still licking my wounds from the dirty trick that the Kansas Department of Transportation was playing on the city of Abilene.
Several times last month, the only route out of the city limits that was not under some type of road construction was Old Highway 40 traveling west.
As you probably know, the eastbound exit and entrance ramps to Interstate 70 from Highway 15 were closed. KDOT had a pilot car on Kansas Highway 15 for several days and Old Highway 40 east of Detroit is still closed.
Can KDOT really close an intersection on a major interstate? Maybe it should be required to compensate not only the businesses but the city and county governments for the lost sales tax that it has caused.
But little did I realize, in the words of Randy Bachman (Bachman Turner Overdrive), I “ain’t seen nothing yet.”
We pulled out of Abilene at 6 a.m. just in time to hit rush hour traffic in Kansas City and just in time to hit rush hour traffic in St. Louis.
From just east of St. Louis all the way to Columbus there was road construction: miles upon miles of it.
Granted, not every road was being worked on. We often ran upon electronic signs that flashed “no delay next 10 miles.” Translation: we could drive the speed limit or at least what motorists thought was the speed limit. Orange diamond signs often read “exit open,” making us assume that all other exits were closed.
Kansas had the highest speed limit of 75 mph. (Kansas also had the only toll road through the five states, but there was no road construction on it this time.) With the exception of Illinois where the speed limit was 65, most motorists cruised along at 80, regardless of what was posted; well, for those few miles not under construction.
Are you getting the picture? This trip was NOT going to take 12 hours.
Each state had its own penalties for hitting a highway worker.
It would seem inconceivable that highway workers would be in danger, until you drive 600 miles through orange and white barrels.
For hitting a worker in Kansas and Missouri, the fine is $10,000 and you lose your license. In Illinois and Indiana the fine is $10,000 and 14 years (assuming jail). In Ohio, it’s $10,000 and you have to replace that worker on the crew. Apparently, Ohio needs every man, woman and teenager working to finish the massive construction.
Most often the detours were so confusing Glinda, the voice on our GPS device, repeated over and over “Follow the vehicle in front of you. Follow the vehicle in front of you.”
As we found out, sometimes that doesn’t work either.
Heading into Indianapolis, Ind., we were seeing signs that read Interstate 70 was closed at Exit 80.
Can they really close an interstate highway?
Well, Indiana did.
The confusing part was the detour. As we took the highway around the closed exit, all four of us saw signs reading “Interstate 70 East.”
So did a lot of other motorists which were heading in that direction. If the highway was closed, wouldn’t those signs be covered or marked with a detour?
We took the bait. But yes, I-70 East was closed. We ended up going several miles out of the way in stop and go traffic. Who am I kidding? It was mostly in stop mode. (Note to fellow drivers. Never let the gas gauge get past 40 miles to empty.)
The next interesting adventure consisted of four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic (cars and trucks, and trucks, and trucks) coming to a screeching halt as the four lanes narrowed down to one. Yes, ONE!
There was an accident in Indianapolis, fortunately for us in the lane going in the opposite direction, and traffic was not moving for three miles and the traffic line was growing fast.
It was nice spending time with family.
And watching the last episode of “Breaking Bad” on my sister-in-law’s 100-inch HD-TV with surroundsound and theater seating complete with movie candy hidden in the secret drawer of the chair arm made the horrendous driving adventure worth it.