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Saturday, October 2, 2010

I-85 and I-95: Take a Break

October, November, and December are travel months. When Ryan and Eric were young, Nortel rented either Kings Dominion near Richmond, Va., Carowinds near Charlotte, or Busch Gardens near Williamsburg, Va. at the end of their public season for a company-only, company-paid day of fun. (In those days Nortel employed over 10,000 people here.) Now that Eric is in D.C., American University runs a family weekend in October that we attend.

In November, Gail and I often take advantage of low hotel prices at Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Later in the month, her family usually gets together somewhere for Thanksgiving. This year the venue is Big Canoe in the Georgia mountains north of Atlanta. And every December between Christmas and New Year's, I take my Dad from Montgomery, Ala. to Folkston, Ga. for train watching.

All of this requires driving. I remember when the Interstate highways were opened in the 1960s and 1970s. It was such a relief, compared to the old U.S. and state highways. Zooming down a four-lane I-85 or I-95 at 75 mph was quite a joy, waving from a distance at small town police chiefs and traffic lights.

But my attitude has changed. Over the years I’ve found that I-85 and I-95 interest me less and less. I can’t count how many times I’ve driven some segment of I-85 between Montgomery (its southern end) and Petersburg, Va. (its northern end). In many areas I-85 and I-95 have not been improved since they were built. They are outdated and overcrowded.

Thus I’ve begun driving more on the old U.S. and state highways that the Interstates bypassed. Having a GPS – which I think is the pinnacle of 20th century technology -- makes this easier. Now that these old roads don’t have much traffic on them, I find them quite enjoyable. The driving is effortless and relatively quiet. There is more to see, especially if you have an eye for the historic. It’s easier to stop for gas, a snack, or simply a stretch break. Sometimes I listen to the local A.M. radio stations as I pass through.

In addition I’ve found that at Thanksgiving, or on a summer weekend between Richmond and D.C., you can make much better time off the Interstates than on them. How many times on the Sunday after Thanksgiving have I crossed over I-85 or I-95 on a bridge and seen all four lanes stopped, with bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to both horizons! Meanwhile I’m plodding along at an average speed of 45 or 50, beating those suckers to my destination -- and with far less stress.

Try it yourself and see.