Get ready to rumble

“It’s like going from heaven to hell,” says John Hoard about crossing from Tennessee into Arkansas. “Tennessee has the best stretch of the worst highway in the world: I-40.”

That’s what many respondents in Overdrive‘s annual Highway Report Card survey think. For the fifth year, Arkansas roads were named the worst by 14 percent of the respondents, though the state also ranked high on the most improved list. The Volunteer State received almost 9 percent of the votes for best roads, topping that category.

Arkansas was also home to the segment of road voted worst in the nation: I-40 from Fort Smith to West Memphis, chosen by 18 percent of respondents.

“It’s amazing that the stuff stays on the flatbed,” says Ray Raczek, who made about 40 trips across I-40 this summer. “As soon as you get into Arkansas from Tennessee, it’s like a washboard all the way across.”

Ken Zell, who hauls antique and classic cars for Horseless Carriage, says, “It just beats you to death.”

“It’s nothing but holes, and it’ll tear your truck to pieces,” says Burt McKinney Jr., who has been hauling steel for almost 18 years. According to more than 65 percent of the survey respondents, it’s potholes that make the worst of the nation’s roads so horrible.

“You can’t drive in the right lane, the bumps are so bad,” says Elbert Story of White Bluff, Tenn. “There are signs that tell you to drive in the left lane. The whole system is in bad shape.”

“Arkansas was the first state to have its interstate system completed, so we have some of the oldest interstates in the country,” says Randy Ort of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

Last year, Arkansas launched a $950 million program to improve more than 60 percent – 380 miles – of its interstates. “The plan is to have all work under way in three years and completed in five,” Ort says. “It’s the second year, and we’re on schedule.”

Instead of piling more asphalt over the old asphalt, which is relatively quick and cheap, Arkansas is crushing the pavement and using that as the foundation for new asphalt, a process called rubbleization.

Truckers have noticed the progress. Respondents chose Arkansas roads as the second most improved. “There are so many roads that are quite rough, but they’re doing a good job working on it,” Zell says.

For the fifth year, Pennsylvania was voted most improved. “Pennsylvania used to be the worst, but now they’re getting with the program,” says Gary Frisbie of Depew, N.Y., who is leased to Clark Transfer.

“I remember when that first 110 miles would just beat you to death, but they ripped it out and started over,” says Dwight Franke, who’s been driving for 17 years. “It seems like they’re making major strides.”

“We are spending more than $2 billion a year on the highway system, and truckers are seeing those improvements,” says Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “We continue to have major rehab projects in the works, such as I-80 and I-81 and most of the routes truckers would use.”

Pennsylvania spent seven years at the top of the list in the Overdrive Worst Roads survey. This year, even with all the improvements, Pennsylvania was voted second worst because of all the construction. “Pennsylvania has really been improving,” says John Bower Jr., who is leased to Farruggios Express in Bristol, Pa. “But with them working on the roads all the time, it makes it a bear to go through.”

While Pennsylvania and Arkansas are working on improving their roads and their reputations, Tennessee seems to have perfected the recipe for smooth roads.

“We’ve been lucky in that we’ve had a consistent funding source,” says Mike Shinn, chief of administration for Tennessee Department of Transportation. “We have dedicated revenues from gas tax, diesel tax and motor vehicle registration.” Tennessee also has a trust fund that includes $84 million per year dedicated to resurfacing, which the state tries to do every 12 years.

Bruce Saltsman, Tennessee DOT commissioner, says the state is committed to maintaining its existing system. “I’ve been building roads and buildings all my life,” says Saltsman, a former truck owner retired from a building company.

Other states that made the best roads list are Florida, Ohio, Texas and Indiana. “I-75 across Florida has been rebuilt, repaved and widened out; it’s as smooth as glass,” says Wayne Huey, who is leased to Landstar.

Other states that made it to the top 10 list of worst states are Louisiana, New York, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Michigan, Oklahoma and California.

“Michigan is far worse than Arkansas or Pennsylvania,” says William Martin of Stevens, Pa.

“When you’re going across Louisiana, all you do is bounce,” Frisbie says. “I was sleeping in the sleeper when we crossed there, and I spent more time up in the air than I did in the sleeper.”

“I have a long wheel base and an air-ride, but if I didn’t, I’d probably have knots on my head,” Franke says of driving through Louisiana. “They are doing some repaving across there; I will give them that.”

According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 65 percent of highway travelers, including four-wheelers, are satisfied with major highways. Apparently, they didn’t ask very many of the truckers who carry most of the $6 trillion worth of commodities that bounce across U.S. highways.


Photograph courtesy of State of Tennessee Photographic Services

MOST SCENIC
1. Colorado
2. Montana
3. Tennessee
4. Oregon
5. Utah

MOST OVERNIGHT PARKING
1. Pennsylvania
2. Texas
3. Indiana
4. Ohio
5. Kentucky

LEAST OVERNIGHT PARKING
1. New Jersey
2. Connecticut
3. Massachusetts
4. New York
5. Virginia

BEST REST STOPS
1. Florida
2. Georgia
3. Ohio
4. Indiana
5. Pennsylvania

BEST TRUCK STOPS
1. Iowa
2. Texas
3. Pennsylvania
4. Georgia
5. Tennessee

TOUGHEST TRUCK INSPECTIONS
1. California
2. Ohio
3. Tennessee
4. Pennsylvania
5. Indiana

WEAKEST TRUCK INSPECTIONS
1. Alabama
2. Texas
3. Oklahoma
4. West Virginia
5. South Carolina


To compare to last year’s list, click here.

WHERE THE REST IS BEST

Not much has changed since last year in readers’ picks of the best states for parking and resting, whether at truck stops or rest stops.

Florida and Georgia remain the top two states for rest stops, while Iowa and Texas were again rated as having the best truck stops. New Jersey and Connecticut kept up their reputation for having the least amount of overnight parking; Pennsylvania and Texas were rated as having the most overnight parking, as they were last year.

“Because we are a small state, there are parking issues,” says John Dourgarian, spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. “There’s just not enough room.”

“There are hardly any truck stops in Jersey,” says John Bower Jr., who is leased to Farruggios Express out of Bristol, Pa. “I try to plan it that I’m not going to have to sleep in New Jersey, because you can’t find a spot if you get there any later than 2 or 3 in the afternoon.”

“You have truck stops pretty frequently in Pennsylvania,” says Dwight Franke of Kell, Ill. “And you have the Pennsylvania Turnpike with all those wide spots.”

Dave Anderson, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation, says rest stops are important because so many tourists visit the state. “We recently had a customer survey, and they indicated that rest stops were a big priority, so it’s a big priority to us,” Anderson says.

“The rest areas in Florida are very clean, and they have quite a bit of parking,” says Ken Zell, who is leased to Horseless Carriage. “But their truck stops are few and far between.”

In the best truck stop voting, Iowa edged Texas out of first place this year.

“Iowa doesn’t have the most truck stops,” says Gary Frisbie, who has hauled Broadway shows and toured with bands. “But it has the world’s biggest, Iowa 80.”



CALIFORNIA: ‘YOU GO IN THERE TREMBLING’

As it did last year, California took top honors as the state with the toughest highway enforcement.

“California does have a larger budget, but they have more trucks going through there, so there are going to be more inspections,” says Stephen Campbell, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“You go in there trembling,” says Ken Zell of Elizabethtown, Pa. “You just hope you’re not going to get stopped.”

“You have to wash your truck at the Arizona border, because if it ain’t clean, they’re going to stop you,” says Richard Evans, a company driver for Proline Carriers.

Alabama and Texas again topped the list of states that are weakest on truck inspections and law enforcement.

While California is about three times the size of Alabama, its highway enforcement effort far exceeds that ratio. During 2000, Alabama did roughly 33,000 inspections; California did almost 450,000. Alabama has 50 full-time officers on its motor carrier unit and 75 part-timers. On a typical day, California has 700 to 800 officers on the roads.

“Alabama is one of those states you can run through if you’re running illegal,” Evans says. “And if you want to make good time, you can breeze on through there.”

Doug Marxhausen of Berthead, Colo., remembers going through Alabama. “I had a broken brake drum when they did a DOT check. I was sweating bullets,” he says. “It was hanging down, but they didn’t see it, and they sent me on my way.”


WORST FOUR-WHEELERS
1. New York
2. New Jersey
3. Illinois
4. California
5. Florida


To compare to last year’s list, click here.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINES

Almost 80 percent of respondents to an Overdrive survey think acts of freeway fury have increased in the past two years. Ken Zell of Elizabethtown, Pa., is one of the 45 percent of respondents who believe road rage toward trucks has increased significantly. “If I can get through a day without ticking people off, I consider it a good day,” Zell says. “These days, it doesn’t take much to get a finger gesture.”

Doug Marxhausen of Berthoud, Colo., agrees. “I don’t believe there’s a person that drives down the road that wants to be behind a truck, even if they have to cross a double yellow line,” Marxhausen says. “I see people do stupid things to get around me. I’ve had people pass me on the right shoulder, and some even get off the exit, don’t stop and get back on to zip in front of me.”

Dwight Franke, an owner-operator leased to Ace Doran, believes road rage stems from ignorance about sharing the roads with trucks. “People don’t realize they’re dealing with 80,000 pounds,” Franke says. “It’s like they go brain-dead. They just drive the same route back and forth, but they cross three lanes of traffic to make the exit.”

Elbert Story, who has been driving 24 years, doesn’t pin all the blame on four-wheelers. “It’s getting bad all over. You see car and truck drivers cutting each other off,” Story says. “You would think it would be younger, inexperienced drivers, but you see old men doing the same things the younger ones do.”

It might be easiest for truckers to get sucked into road rage in New York and New Jersey, the two states voted by readers as having the worst four-wheelers. For the second year, New York was named the state with the rudest four-wheelers, with 23 percent of the vote. New Jersey moved from fourth to second with 19 percent.

Wayne Huey, who is leased to Landstar Inway, says cars in those states cut you off and try to get ahead of you when you’re turning corners. “Anything you can name about being a bad driver, they do it,” Huey says. “They don’t use turn signals. They come off exit ramps right in front of you. They act like there’s not even a truck on the road.”

Ray Raczek of New York thinks New Jersey is worse. “As soon as you get into New Jersey, they’re flying. You have to be on your toes,” Raczek says. “It may be bad in New York City, but it’s not as bad as New Jersey. They go fast in New York, but they don’t cut you off.”

Both states are taking action to calm road rage. In March, New York Gov. George Pataki proposed legislation that would suspend the licenses of aggressive drivers and require them to complete a driver improvement program.

Sgt. Al Della Fave of the New Jersey State Police says anyone who sees aggressive driving can call a new hotline to report it. “We’re trying our best to turn things around,” Della Fave says. To report an incident, dial #77 on your cell phone or call (800) SAF-ROAD.

John Dourgarian of the New Jersey Department of Transportation says traffic density is the major problem. “We have more cars and more people per square mile,” he says.

Though most respondents say road rage has increased in recent years, some have noticed a calming since Sept. 11.

“Everyone’s more courteous after the attacks, and they’re displaying flags,” Story says. “It seems like it’s almost brought people together,” Franke says. “You still see a few idiots, but people seem friendlier.”

“Now they don’t go crazy in traffic,” Raczek says. “They just sit back and read a book or talk. There aren’t as many horns.”

Marxhausen feels the attitude improvement won’t last. “I have never seen it that nice,” he says. “But a week and a half later, it was back to the way it used to be, maybe a little better.”

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