‘Rougher than a corncob’

| December 12, 2008

Workers pull a damaged section of the I-10 bridge from Lake Pontchartrain after Hurricane Katrina.

“To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new.” So goes the opening of Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 novel, All the King’s Men, inspired by the life and death of Louisiana’s Huey Long. The populist governor built 2,000 miles of paved roads in a state that had only 300 miles when he was elected.

Warren’s opening might do well today to describe a drive on I-10 northeast out of New Orleans – except for the “good” and “new.” Thanks largely to I-10, this year’s Overdrive Highway Report Card survey of owner-operators bestows the Worst Roads crown upon a veteran of the Top Five, the Bayou State of Louisiana.

John Clark of Bradenville, Pa., hauls produce for FST Logistics. Although he runs through Pennsylvania – the state most frequently at the head of the Worst Roads list in its 16-year history, and a close second this year – he says I-10 alone is bad enough to qualify Louisiana for the top spot. “It’s awful,” he says, citing the potholes and bumps.

Bad roads nationwide force Clark to replace his shocks every seven to 12 months. “You hit a couple good potholes, and it blows them out.”

Wayne Strother Sr. of Bunkie, La., an independent who hauls grain and produce from Texas to Georgia, decries a 35-mile stretch of I-10 around Lake Charles that he runs weekly. “It’s falling to pieces over there,” he says. “You have to run in the left lane to keep from tearing your stuff up.”

Tommy Andrews of Red Oak, Texas, an independent heavy-equipment hauler, calls I-10 “rougher than a corncob. The roads are so rough, you can tear up a brand-new truck.” He’s had the front end of his truck realigned three times this year at $163 a pop.

“If they spent as much money fixing the roads as they do building scales, they’d be all right,” says Andrews, one of the owner-operators who cited Louisiana not only for rough roads but for rough inspections.

Produce hauler Don Rausch of Dyersville, Iowa, leased to Tauke Transfer of Cascade, agrees. “You can’t hardly go across there without some kind of hassle, somebody pulling you over for something.”

But in the voting on toughest truck inspections and law enforcement, Louisiana placed far down the list. As it has for years, California reigns as the toughest. Alabama’s enforcement ranks as the weakest. Other survey highlights:

  • Most respondents said road rage had increased over the year, as more and more vehicles battle for the same space.

  • California retained the dubious honor of having the worst automobile drivers, with New York and Illinois trading second and third spots this year.
  • Texas again had the most first-place finishes in positive categories: best drivers, best truck stops, most available overnight parking, best rest areas and, by a significant margin over Florida, best roads.

It’s no secret that Louisiana’s swampy terrain makes road building in some areas difficult. “Louisiana is soft, so getting a solid road there is really a problem,” says Lawrence Griffin of McAlester, Okla., who’s leased to Sagebrush Logistics.

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