Road poll: The good, the bad, the better

Max Kvidera | February 01, 2010

Familiar freeways top the rankings of best, worst and most improved roads in Overdrive survey

 

One is a molar masher that has raised the ire of users for decades. The other is a ribbon of smooth sailing that has been a favorite in recent years.

In Overdrive’s annual survey of owner-operators’ opinions on the best, worst and most improved U.S. interstate highways, I-10 in Louisiana once again tops the list of worst roads. The highway barely beat out I-95 near New York City.

On the plus side, I-40 in Tennessee repeated for the fourth year in a row as best segment. Most-improved winner was longtime worst winner I-80 in Pennsylvania.

I40
I-40 in Knoxville, Tenn., reopened in 2009 after being closed for more than a year. The state’s section of I-40 was named Best Road.

This past year turned out to be a trying time for state highway departments. Shrinking revenue in the second year of the recession forced states to cut back on budgets for major items such as highway construction and maintenance.

States have responded by postponing new construction and limiting repairs to the most crucial projects.

The lone bright spot has been stimulus funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aimed in part to help rebuild and repair infrastructure.

Already, more than 10,000 transportation and highway projects worth an estimated $21.8 billion have been approved by the Federal Highway Administration. The total amount available to highway projects is capped at $26.6 billion.

A Tennessee titan

At about 455 miles, I-40’s longest stretch within one state is in Tennessee, from the Mississippi River to the Appalachians. Stan Blom, an independent owner-operator from Grimes, Iowa, estimates he’s driven the segment more than 40 times. “It’s a pleasant drive through there. The road surface is good and they use a lot of blacktop,” he says. “They keep it up well.”

I-40’s popularity among truckers isn’t an accident, says Paul Degges, chief engineer of Tennessee’s Department of Transportation. “The number one thing people have told us is maintain our investment in infrastructure. We put a priority on maintaining our bridges and pavement structure, so we have a low overall maintenance cost on those facilities.”

In 2009, the state completed a major reconstruction of two miles of I-40 in Knoxville that shut down the highway for 14 months and rerouted an estimated 120,000 drivers daily.

The Knoxville work was one of 11 projects that were completed on I-40 last year, according to Julie Oaks, Tennessee DOT’s public information officer. Another 11 projects are scheduled for this year on the freeway.

One of 2010’s biggest appropriations for I-40 will be in Nashville, reconstructing an interchange and creating an additional bypass route around the city, Degges says. “It will increase throughput of traffic in the Nashville area,” he says.

Asphalt covers most of I-40 in the state and probably accounts for its high ranking among truckers. The state was one of the first to grind up the top one to three inches of concrete surface as a foundation and then repave with asphalt. That’s contributed to the state receiving seven Perpetual Pavement awards from the Asphalt Pavement Alliance.

While I-40 in Tennessee wins accolades, I-40 in Oklahoma and neighboring Arkansas ranks in the top five for worst roads. I-40 in eastern Oklahoma “will rattle your teeth,” says Mike Skurdahl, an Arkansas-based owner-operator leased to Interstate Distribution. “If you don’t have things tied down, they’ll fly off the shelves in your cab.”

However, I-40 in those states is getting attention from maintenance crews, ranking in the top 10 for most improved highways, according to the survey.

Bayou State strides

While I-40 gets a thumbs-up from drivers, I-10 in Louisiana stands at the opposite end of the spectrum. For four years, I-10 has topped the list of worst highway segments in the Overdrive survey.

Skurdahl says he’s “gone airborne on that road a couple of times.” While the posted speed limit is 70 mph, he says he’s driven as slowly as 45 mph to reduce the road’s impact on his tractor-trailer.

Brian Buckel, chief construction engineer at the Louisiana Department of Transportation, says roads in his state face natural problems most other states don’t have. “We have a lot of marshy land down here,” he says. “If we don’t bring in materials, there’s nothing to build on. That’s why we have so many bridges and elevated structures in the state.

We might get five to 15 years out of a road, not the 30 to 40 years other states get with good foundations.”

Buckel says most of I-10 didn’t sustain much direct damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but it was stressed from the many overloaded trucks hauling away debris after the storms hit.

“It was already in a weakened condition and was probably stressed even more,” he says. The freeway east of New Orleans was submerged after levees broke during Katrina’s onslaught. After Katrina, the state received federal stimulus money and other funds to rebuild interstates hard hit by the storms.

Engineers would like to widen I-10’s lanes statewide from four lanes to eight, but there is no funding in place for that anytime soon. Still, Buckel says, I-10 is in better condition than five years ago. That’s borne out in the survey, in which I-10 finished in second place for most improved highway.

Empire State’s 40-mile nightmare

Narrowly losing out to I-10 for worst road was I-95 in New York City. Owner-operator Shawn Cavanaugh of Shamokin, Pa., who’s leased to Camel Express, says I-95’s 40 miles from the George Washington Bridge to the Connecticut state line can be a challenge for any driver. Many truckers avoid the area or are paid a premium to haul loads there.

“It’s difficult because of the amount of traffic and the constant construction,” says Cavanaugh, who navigates Northeast routes. “The New York metro area is one of the worst.” He says I-95 is rutted from heavy traffic and intermittent freezing and thawing in the winter and spring. n


2010 Highway Report Card

BEST ROADS

1. I-40 Tennessee

2. I-75 Florida

3. I-10 Florida

 

WORST ROADS

1. I-10 Louisiana

2. I-95 New York

3. I-40 Arkansas


MOST IMPROVED ROAD

1. I-80 Pennsylvania

2. I-10 Louisiana

3. I-81 Pennsylvania

 

BEST ROADS

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. Tennessee

 

WORST ROADS

1. Pennsylvania

2. Michigan

3. New York and California (tie)

 

LEAST AVAILABLE OVERNIGHT PARKING

1. Virginia

2. New Jersey

3. Massachusetts


MOST AVAILABLE OVERNIGHT PARKING

1. Texas

2. Indiana

3. Ohio

 

WORST REST STOPS

1. Virginia

2. California

3. New Jersey

 

BEST REST STOPS

1. Texas

2. Florida

3. Ohio

 

WORST TRUCK STOPS

1. New Jersey

2. Massachusetts

3. California, New York,

Pennsylvania (tie)

 

BEST TRUCK STOPS

1. Texas

2. Iowa

3. Ohio

 

TOUGHEST ON TRUCK INSPECTIONS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

1. California

2. Ohio

3. Maryland,

Pennsylvania (tie)

 

WEAKEST ON TRUCK INSPECTIONS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

1. Alabama

2. Oklahoma

3. South Carolina


 

WORST AUTOMOBILE DRIVERS

1. Illinois

2. California

3. New Jersey

 

BEST AUTOMOBILE DRIVERS

1. Texas

2. Ohio

3. Tennessee



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