Don’t Mess With Texas
Although Pennsylvania tops the Worst Roads list, highway construction has helped the state move up the most improved list.
Texas covers 268,601 square miles, making it the second largest state after Alaska. Spanning those miles across dusty deserts and through big cities are the best interstates in the system, according to readers voting in this year’s Overdrive Highway Report Card survey.
Pennsylvania led the list for worst roads. It and Arkansas have been frequent contenders for this dubious honor in recent years, though Arkansas and Pennsylvania also took the top two places as most improved this year.
Texas tops some other categories in the survey, as well: most available overnight parking, best truck stops, best rest stops (tie) and best automobile drivers. The state also was voted to have the worst rest stops, a discrepancy that demonstrates the variety of conditions in a state so large.
“The roads I travel in Texas are good roads,” says cattle hauler Rusty Dykeman, who has driven them for more than 10 years. “I hear a lot of guys talking, though, and they say Houston is a nightmare, but I don’t get down in that area.”
“Texas is always working on their roads,” says Robert Powell of Houston. “If there is a bad area, they tear it out and fix it. They have construction everywhere.”
Texas spends $2.2 billion annually on highway maintenance. The state has more than 48,000 bridges – more than any other state – and more than 3,200 miles of interstate.
Arkansas, topping the most improved list, is finishing its fourth year of construction. When the state finishes its interstate overhaul next year, it will have spent $1 billion.
“Arkansas is trying,” says Terry Fowler, a car hauler and professional driver for 30 years. “It’s better than it was, but they have a long way to go. I think they just waited too long to fix it. It’s just used so much.”
“They were pretty long past what they were built to handle, but there have been a lot of improvements in a lot of places,” says Glenn Bolick, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Transportation. “We were not surprised that we were near the bottom of everyone’s list, but now we think we should be at the top.”
Arkansas has, in fact, dropped down the list of worst roads and climbed up the list of most improved. Pennsylvania, too, despite its reputation for bad roads, has advanced on the most improved list.
“Some stretches are a little better” in Pennsylvania, says trucker Dion Etherson of Prince Frederick, Md. “But they still need some repaving.”
“That I-80, I use it all the time, and it will just beat you to death,” says George Hames of Corinth, Maine. “I realize they have a lot of truck traffic through there, but I think they’re just rushing the construction too much. I used to work construction, and you have to do it right.”
“It’s bumpy and full of cracks, and it’ll shake you to death,” says Kenneth Williams, an independent who has hauled through Pennsylvania for 12 years. “I just don’t think it has improved.”
Pennsylvania spends more than $1.25 billion each year on major road projects, says Rich Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “Between 1980 and 2004, we invested more than $1.1 billion to completely rebuild most of I-80. On I-81, the other major cross-state truck route, between 1975 and 2004, we invested more than $1 billion on maintenance and reconstruction.”
While a few places are rough, they are being replaced or are scheduled to be, Kirkpatrick says. “Over the last 10 years, Pennsylvania has dramatically improved the riding surface of its interstates,” he says. “The median number for the International Roughness Index, the nationally accepted measure of pavement smoothness, dropped from nearly 105 in 1996 to roughly 86 in 2003. The median for I-80 in 2003 was 78 and for I-81, 84. These numbers represent very good ride quality. It remains a mystery to us why your readers insist that our interstates are not in good condition. We have invested a lot of money in the primary truck routes.”
At least one major thoroughfare is not the department’s responsibility. PennDOT does not control the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is I-76. It is managed by an independent commission. Kirkpatrick also points out that Pennsylvania bears a large share of the nation’s truck traffic.
Scott Nesselrodt, an independent from Bergton, Va., drives through the state once or twice a week hauling reefer foods, so he has plenty of experience on Pennsylvania roads. “They’re rough and unmaintained. There are a lot of holes.”
Roads may be getting better, but road rage isn’t, according to this year’s survey results. Sixty-one percent of respondents believe road rage has increased during the past year.
“Car drivers speed everywhere,” Powell says. “It’s just something you live with.”
Nesselrodt agrees. “There is a lot of tailgating and cutting off, but the trucks are just as bad as the cars are sometimes.”
Fowler also has noticed some increase in road rage. “Everybody nowadays is in a hurry to go nowhere,” he says.
Though Texas was voted as having the best automobile drivers, Powell has noticed some slight increases in road rage even there. “Here in Texas, a lot of them carry guns in their vehicles now,” he says. “Everyone thinks they’re a bad-ass because they can carry a gun, but I was trained that you don’t threaten with a gun.”
Respondents again named California the toughest state for truck inspections and law enforcement, and Alabama again was named the state that is weakest on truck inspections and law enforcement.
Jim Fernella, who has hauled reefer and dry goods since 1975, agrees with the survey findings on Alabama. “They have one scale on I-20 that checks trucks, and other than that they don’t really mess with trucks,” he says. “Unless you really dishonor yourself, they won’t pull you over. I’ve only seen them out there pulling trucks over one time in the years I’ve been driving through there.”
THE BEST FOR REST
Texas, Texas, Texas. Other than having the best roads, the state also topped the lists for most available overnight parking, best rest areas and best truck stops. Florida tied with Texas for best rest areas.
Rusty Dykeman, a cattle hauler from Pauls Valley, Okla., agrees that Texas has some of the best rest areas. “There’s one right off I-40 that’s brand new. It looks like a mini Las Vegas,” says Dykeman, who has been driving for 18 years. “It’s almost too nice. They may have overdone it.”
“They have plenty of truck parking in Texas,” says Jim Fernella of Wesley Chapel, Fla. “They have new rest areas, and they’re installing wi-fi so you can hook to the Internet for free from your truck, and they patrol them so you feel safe when you’re resting. No one bothers you there.”
Fernella feels the truck stops are just as nice. “They’re bigger in Texas, and everyone is friendly. They treat you like you’re from there even though you’re from out of town. They even seem to remember your name. And you can really relax in them because you feel safe.”
Robert Powell, who has been driving professionally since 1975, says he always can find a place to park in Texas. “There is always room for trucks,” says Powell, who hauls pipe, steel and sometimes tankers. “We have some very big rest areas and big truck stops, but unfortunately they’re not always clean because not everyone wants to help keep them clean.”
Even though Texas got the vote for best rest stops, it also got the vote for the worst. “I can understand that,” says Bill Powell, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. “We are redoing and refitting a lot of the rest areas, but we haven’t gotten to some of the ones from the 1960s. The new ones are modern wonders, but there are a few that are appalling. One outside of Austin has stall walls in the bathroom that are only about waist-high. We’re trying to get rid of those.” Some rest areas will be closed and converted to truck parking areas, Powell says.
New Jersey, almost the exact opposite of Texas in available space and size, tops the lists for least available overnight parking and worst truck stops.
“You just can’t find a parking place,” says independent Kenneth Williams of Cleveland, Tenn., who has been driving professionally for 14 years. “Sometimes you have to go 150 miles away from where you are going to find a place to park.”
Williams did not, however, give his thumbs-up vote on overnight parking to Texas, either. “They’re too far apart, and I don’t care who’s there, rest areas are unsafe.”
HIGHWAY REPORT CARD
392 OVERDRIVE READERS responded to the Highway Report Card survey during fall 2004, giving results with a 4.9 percent margin of error. Almost 85 percent of respondents were owner-operators. More than 75 percent of respondents had more than 11 years in the trucking industry. More than 31 percent drive all 48 states.
Because each ranking is based on separate questions, and because states that have a large share of truck traffic tend to get the most votes, a state can show up on two lists of seemingly opposite results.
Least available Overnight Parking
1. New Jersey
5. New York
Most available Overnight Parking
Worst Rest Stops
5. New Jersey
Best Rest Stops
1-2. Texas, Florida (tie)
Worst Automobile Drivers
2. New York
4. New Jersey
Best Automobile Drivers
Worst Truck Stops
1. New Jersey
2. New York
Best Truck Stops
Toughest On Truck Inspections
Weakest On Truck Inspections
4. South Carolina