Worst Roads: Southwestern Wonder

A Texas-sized budget helps keep the Lonestar State’s roads in such good shape that respondents to this year’s Overdrive survey of worst roads and related highway issues voted them best in the nation.

That’s hardly the only way the state stands out with readers. They ranked it No. 1 for most available overnight parking, worst rest stops, best truck stops and best four-wheelers, as well as other top-five placements on lists both good and bad.

And while Texas roads are deep in the heart of truckers, it’s the same old song for Arkansas. Its roads – notably I-40 – remain a little rocky, though they’re getting much better, according to readers who voted the state tops for worst roads as well as most improved.

“Driving through Arkansas is just nasty,” says James Rice, who is leased to Landstar Ligon and hauls oversize equipment. “I had a television come unstrapped and fall on the floor while I was driving across there.”

Rice, who lives in Dora, Mo., drives a double-drop trailer that can expand. With as many as seven axles on the ground, he appreciates good roads. “It just seems that all the Texas roads are surfaced and repaired well,” Rice says. “The state seems to take a lot of time and trouble to make them good.”

And even though Arkansas is in its third year of its five-year, $950 million renovation, Rice says he doesn’t think the roads are going to be that much better when they’re finished. “I’m not impressed. Arkansas is dragging their feet. A lot of the really bad patches they’ve repaired are getting bad again right away,” he says. “I don’t understand why they’re one of the highest for permits and they provide the worst roads.”
“It’s murder driving across Arkansas,” says Jesse Murillo, who has been leased to KLLM Transport since 1987. “I have a fairly new truck with a long wheel base, so most times you can’t feel bad roads, but you get down there, and you’re just thrown out of the seat.”

Murillo, who has lived in Texas all his life, also agrees that Texas has the best roads. “They just take better care of their roads,” he says.

Charles Fryar of Albany, Texas, says the worst thing about Arkansas roads is the amount of construction. “There were signs for about 13 construction zones between one state line and Little Rock and 17 past Little Rock,” he says.

Lee Gordon, public information officer for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, says this is the peak year of the renovation plan. “We’ve completed 42 projects, and we have 28 projects that are still in construction. We have rebuilt 93 miles of interstate. We’re working hard to get it done as rapidly and safely as possible,” he says.

Although Charles Granger, who has been an owner-operator for 25 years, voted for second-place Louisiana as having the worst roads, he says, “Arkansas can hold hands with Louisiana. Texas, though, believes in making repairs when necessary.”

That maintenance – routine and preventive – costs Texas more than $1 billion annually. The total road construction budget is about $3 billion. “Our goal is to ensure that 90 percent of Texas roads and 80 percent of the bridges are in good or better condition,” says Mark Cross, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Transportation. “Most of our system is entering very mature years of life, but through a progressive maintenance program we’ve attempted to minimize deterioration.”

Another major part of TxDOT’s renovation efforts includes the rest areas and parking for trucks. Texas is renovating 67 of 96 rest areas and building 26 new facilities. All of the new facilities will have at least 25 acres to ensure room for truck parking, says Cross. “We’re working to create even more parking, and we’re going to go to a separate parking system for cars and trucks,” he says. It will take Texas about 11 years to finish the renovations.

Randy Smith, of Euless, Texas, says Texas has good rest areas and truck stops. “The truck stops in Texas seem to have more adequate parking, even though nowhere seems to have enough adequate parking, unless you’re in Wyoming,” says Smith, who has been driving for 32 years.

Doris Hansen doesn’t think Texas truck stops are that great, but she says there are plenty of places to park. “You just don’t see signs that say ‘No Trucks Allowed’ like you do in other states,” says Hansen, who with her husband John pulls a flatbed through 48 states.

Rice agrees with the rankings of Texas in the parking lists. “It’s fairly easy to find somewhere to park in Texas. There are lots of places for you to pull off the road and lots of truck stops,” he says. “But they have the worst rest stops. They’re small and crowded, and with oversize I don’t like to pull into the rest areas at all.”

Florida still holds the title for best rest areas. “They are just better and cleaner, and there is security in most or all of them,” says Gary Finch, a heavy equipment hauler from San Antonio.

No. 2 on the list of the worst rest areas is New Jersey, which also topped the worst truck stop list. Considering those two rankings, it’s no surprise that New Jersey was named the state with the least amount of available overnight parking, as it was last year.

“You always see trucks parked on the highway,” says Granger. “I don’t get up there often, but drivers say there’s just no place to park.”

Murillo refuses to go to the Northeast anymore, especially New Jersey, because of the lack of parking. “Everywhere you go it’s full,” he says.

Rice says the whole Northeast is bad for parking. “On a good day you can go 500 miles and get out of there and not have to worry about it,” he says.

Along with a lack of parking, the Northeast has been known to have some of the worst four-wheelers. While New York and New Jersey rank in the top five, as they have for three years, California topped this year’s list for the worst four-wheelers.

Murillo says all states are equally bad for four-wheelers. “Every state has bad drivers. They flash their lights, but I just try to keep my distance,” he says. “I stay away from them and hope for the best.”

“There are some really bad drivers out there, but most people aren’t stupid, they just don’t think about what they’re doing,” says Fryar, a 14-year driving veteran who is leased to Landstar Inway. “If California was really concerned about safety, it would try to inform cars how to react to trucks on the roads.”

California again was voted as having the toughest truck inspection and law enforcement program in the country. “I get stopped quite a bit in California. They’re sticklers,” says Finch, who has been an owner-operator for almost 22 years.

Granger, who hauls oil field equipment, says California enforces the law pretty strictly in his experience. “I went through a paperwork inspection, and it was very thorough,” he says. “But I don’t mind because you need to have your paperwork in order and your truck in shape.”

Alabama kept its top spot on the weakest truck inspections and enforcement list, but the state is working to increase its state trooper population, thanks in part to a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department. By the end of 2003, there should be 210 new state troopers on Alabama’s roads.


Arkansas is working hard to renovate the state’s roads and to prevent more crashes around construction zones.

DEATH ZONES

While Arkansas’ first three years of interstate highway renovation have been a major step in the right direction, safety has been an increasing concern.

Reports this year said the construction was causing more crashes and fatalities than ever. But those reports were misleading, says Lee Gordon, public information officer for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

“With the volume of construction, there is going to be an impact, but it’s no more than we had anticipated,” he says. “And to protect motorists, we’ve stepped up enforcement dramatically.” This increased enforcement includes state troopers dressing as construction workers in the construction zones.

Nationwide, roadway construction zone fatalities hit a record high of 1,079 in 2001. That’s a 5 percent increase from 2000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Over the past five years, work-zone fatalities have increased 65 percent.

Of the nearly 42,000 highway deaths in 2001, roadway conditions were a factor in an estimated 30 percent, about 13,000 people, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The ASCE gives the nation’s roads a D+ on its 2001 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. “One third of the nation’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition,” says the report card. The last report, in 1998, gave roads a D-. The ASCE reports that in 2001, 42 percent of the major roads in Arkansas were in poor or mediocre condition, while 27 percent of Texas roads were in the same condition. The worst was Louisiana, at 52 percent; the best was Maine, at 6 percent.

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