Road poll: The good, the bad, the better

Max Kvidera | February 01, 2010

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