Trucking's owner-operators call out the absolute worst stretch of highway in America

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Updated Jul 31, 2023


Asked by Overdrive News Editor Matt Cole for the stretch of road they'd describe as the absolute worst in the nation, all but one owner-operator at Shell Rotella's SuperRigs show two weeks back in Wyoming pointed straight to I-40 in Arizona. Others are calling it the absolute worst they’ve ever seen.

Danville, Virginia-based owner-operator Joey Slaughter, who runs the route routinely on cross-country step deck hauls, brought this subject to our attention. Clearly, it’s not hard to find similar viewpoints on the stretch between Kingman and Flagstaff in Arizona. I-40's condition has translated to hard dollars and lost time with equipment repairs. In this week's edition of Overdrive Radio, Slaughter tells the story of a brake shoe that came clear off his trailer on one of his regular runs through the area this Spring -- ultimately a $900 repair. 

Howes logoOverdrive Radio's sponsor is Howes, longtime provider of fuel treatments like its Howes Diesel Treat anti-gel and all-weather Diesel Defender, among other products. , Leave a voicemail with your vote for the best and/or worst road in America on the podcast message line this week for a chance to receive a prize pack including a bottle of Defender: 615-852-8530.After I initially told that story a few weeks back, another owner-operator wrote in to note a case of their own -- $800 lighter with repairs and hotel costs waiting on service to shocks after hauling through the area. 

Reader Jimmy Woods said he felt that I-40 eastbound out of California all the way past Flagstaff, even, “borders on neglect, and is unsafe” most definitely. He went on: “In my personal opinion as a truck driver, they are setting themselves up for a hefty lawsuit if someone were to crash through there and a lawyer prove that to be negligence” on the state's part. 

Overdrive Radio logoSubscribe to the podcast on your listening platform of choice for early access to the weekly Overdrive Radio series -- it drops typically every Friday to the feed and follows here at OverdriveOnline.com and in Overdrive's Youtube and Facebook feeds the following week. You can subscribe via Apple and Google podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn, most anywhere you listen.With pieces as big as brake shoes falling off Slaughter’s rig, that's not out of the realm of possibility. 

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Barbara Hankins has to travel this stretch of I-40 back and forth twice weekly now after a career in trucking that's spanned most of the last couple decades, she said, MM 93 to 121 eastbound she called "by far the worst road I have ever traveled" in all of that time. She's had her steer tires replaced three times and multiple alignments done, but noted work around Flagstaff is fairly routine to see, but in parts west the "rest of the highway crumbles." 

And she asked: “Isn't that why we pay road tax on the overpriced fuel?” Take a listen: 

What gets your vote for the absolute worst stretch of road in the nation? Tell us via the podcast message line at 615-852-8530 -- tap here to dial direct. We'll round up your voices on a future edition of the podcast. Please note your name and 20 with any message. 

Other owners you'll hear in this podcast edition:

Nichole CheekNichole “Nikki” Cheek, hopper hauler based in Rozet, Wyoming, leased to North Country Logistics out of Wyndmere, North Dakota. Cheek pointed to I-80 in her home state as particularly perilous for conditions as a veritable "race track" in the summer to a "skating rink" in tough winters, particularly so this past year as regular readers and Overdrive Radio listeners will recall. Matt Cole

Cody DavisCody Davis, coast-to-coast independent livestock hauler based in Cokeville, Wyoming, with three trucks in his Davis Trucking fleetMatt Cole

Jake BastJake Bast of Shoshone, Idaho, leased to RAM Transportation and pulling a flatbed. As with Davis above, he named Arizona I-40 the absolute worst stretch of road in the nation. Bast hauls across most of the United States in any given year.Matt Cole

As for owner-operator Joey Slaughter, he's hopeful for movement on new pavement soon, but questions why the road was allowed to get so bad in the first place. The rough nature of the freeze-thaw cycles this past winter has something to do with, but that can’t be all, he feels. 

There is at least some good news coming out of Arizona DOT on I-40 pavement repairs. As noted Arizona DOT Public Information Officer Garin Groff, a few projects are scheduled to begin as early as July as part of “statewide critical pavement repair projects," he said, sharing this link to scheduled pavement work through next year. 

Arizona DOT 2023-2023 pavement repairs mapNote that much of east-west I-40 between Kingman and Flagstaff (in the upper left quadrant of the map) is slated for repaving this year. More I-40 projects are shown in the works in the recently released five-year project plan for improvements statewide.Arizona DOT

[Related: 'Estimated opening time is unknown': Winter from hell on I-80 in Wyoming

Transcript

Cody Davis: Oh, right now, this spring, man, I'd have to say I-40 across Arizona. It's brutal. And you can't get away. It's both lanes. It's shoulders. I mean, it's brutal. And right now we're shipping a lot from California to Texas, New Mexico, so there's no other way. And it's killing us.

Matt Cole: Have you had any damaged equipment because of roads?

Cody Davis: Oh, absolutely. I mean I've got a couple other trucks that we've lost tires. I mean, alignments are shot. I mean it's pretty rough.

Todd Dills: A little bit of audio there from an interview Overdrive News Editor Matt Cole conducted at the Shell Rotella Super Rigs event in Wyoming a couple weeks back now, with this owner-operator …

Cody Davis: Name's Cody Davis, Davis Trucking. We haul livestock coast to coast all over, mostly the Midwest, west.

Todd Dills: Asked specifically by Cole the stretch of road he felt could be described as the absolute worst in the nation, Cody Davis didn't flinch and singling out I-40 in Arizona. Others are calling it the absolute worst they've ever seen.

Joey Slaughter: It's unbelievable how bad it's gotten.

Todd Dills: That was Danville, Virginia based owner operator Joey Slaughter, who runs the route routinely on cross country step deck halls. He was the man who brought this subject to our attention this spring. It's not hard to find similar viewpoint on the stretch between Kingman and Flagstaff in Arizona. Indeed, among several owners Cole spoke to out in Wyoming at the show, just one named a route other than I-40 in Arizona. Here's local to Wyoming Nikki Cheek. And apologies for the static in this clip.

Nikki Cheek: ... Wyoming and I-80 is a nightmare. It does not matter if it's spring, winter, fall, summer. It's a nightmare. In the summer it's a racetrack. In the winter it's an ice rink. It's just a nightmare.

Todd Dills: For everyone else, though, the results were unanimous. I-40 in Arizona needs work. And for owner operator Joey Slaughter and some others, as you'll hear in the podcast, the road's condition has translated to hard dollars and lost time with equipment repairs. He's hopeful for movement on new pavement soon. But questions why the road was allowed to get so bad in the first place. The rough nature of the freeze thaw cycles this past winter has something to do with it. But that can't be all he feels.

Joey Slaughter: Why do I have to bring this to the attention of people? I think if not me, who? Right? As the saying goes. But I would think that like I told you, I think in the email, all these produce haulers that have 50 trucks on the road or more all the time that go back and forth through Arizona. And as we know from some of the information that you've been getting from other sources, it's a problem for everybody. And I don't see where anybody's trying to get this fixed.

Todd Dills: I'm Todd Dills, as usual, your host for this Overdrive Radio edition and today it's all about the worst road in America. After this brief message from Overdrive Radio sponsor, Howes.

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Todd Dills: To find more about Defender and other Howes products at H-O-W-E-S, howesproducts.com. Which stretch of road would get your vote for the worst in the United States? Tell me on our podcast message line at 615-852-8530. Leave your name and mailing address too with the answer and I'll send you a prize pack from Howes including Defender. Again, that's 615-852-8530. Here's Slaughter.

Joey Slaughter: I'm Joey Slaughter. I've been in trucking for 31 years I think it is now, and owner operator for the last 13 years. And part of what I do now, I'm just a single truck operation with my own authority and I have a 53 foot step deck that I use now. I've been using a step deck trailer probably seven or eight years now. And I have a fairly dedicated run from North Carolina to California. Happens almost once a month, but of course that's how I got to find out about Arizona. I've been doing that run pretty regularly since 2016 or '17. That's allowed me to just see the deterioration of Arizona Interstate 40.

Todd Dills: So back in 2016 when you first started doing this particular run, you were probably taking the same route, I'm guessing?

Joey Slaughter: Pretty much, yeah.

Todd Dills: Yeah. Is this something that's just gotten worse and worse over time I guess?

Joey Slaughter: Yeah, there hasn't been any major repairs in all that time. There's even time periods where they'll close lanes of the interstate, not because of road work but because of its just almost un-drivable. They don't have a good plan to fix it. And New Mexico is regularly closing long sections of interstate and working on it. And Arizona, the road is so deteriorated is what I'm trying to say, they can't even close a lane to fix one because everything is bad. I mean there's no decent road to use anymore in certain sections of 40, especially between Flagstaff and Kingman.

Todd Dills: And that's a pretty long section of road there, right? Flagstaff to Kingman.

Joey Slaughter: Yeah, it's about 150...

Todd Dills: About 150 miles that is. The audio recording cut out on us there for unclear reasons. Gremlins, likely.

Joey Slaughter: And it's really nothing that through there. It's a couple small towns and I mean real small. And that's the problem. There's no residents using that road every day. It's mostly just trucks going in and out of California. And I'm sure if Arizona has to play favorites that that's probably one of their least worried about road, least priority is what I'm trying to think of to say. But we're all taxpayers too, all the people driving these trucks and so that's why I feel like I have a say in it and I've tried to voice my concern.

I started with Twitter and just letting the Arizona DOT Twitter know about it because they're pretty interactive with us with bad weather and taking note of road conditions. And the person operating the Twitter account took note of it. This was a year ago I think. And told me to force my concerns on their website and I did. It was a page for concerns and opinions to be expressed concerning how to spend the upcoming money for the roads. And I gave my opinion based as a trucker that pays taxes in Arizona. So I figured I do have a voice that needs to be heard. But nothing has been done since then.

Todd Dills: When's the last time you were out there?

Joey Slaughter: I was out there last month and I'm going to be going again soon. And the worst part is Interstate 40 east, eastbound between Kingman and Flagstaff. I went into California on 40 and of course the westbound side isn't quite as bad and I didn't see any type of work being done. I saw some construction but it was to replace a bridge, not to fix the roads. And luckily when I came out of California I bypassed it. But I had to go to Utah, by way of Utah, to get back east. That was just the nearest route for me in this case. Thankfully I got to avoid Interstate 40.

Todd Dills: The principal reason owner operator Joey Slaughter contacted me about this particular section of rougher than a corn cob I40 was an incident that well simply shocks the mind, though maybe it all makes sense when you start to think about what can happen to an 80,000 pound combination trying to make its way at high speeds along roads as bad as these.

Joey Slaughter: It was on one of the roughest sections. I mean it's hard to explain how rough it is. It's rougher than you think I'm explaining it. Everyone talks about Louisiana roads or Indiana I see comes up a lot. But those are passable. These roads are not really passable. And before I tell you my quick story, I saw in some of the comments where a guy had a brand new Peterbilt and the hood mirrors broke on the first trip out to California just recently. So that's the kind of rough road it is.

But my case was, I had a guy behind me and he saw one of my brake shoes off my trailer to come off. And by the time I stopped and got it inspected at the shop, the brake shoe was gone. These are very heavy brake shoes. I mean it's a significant piece of metal. And in the S-cam on my brakes was bent and by the time I got it all repaired it was $900. And it just burns me up because it's totally my expense I have to absorb. And it was totally due the bad conditions of the roads out there.

Todd Dills: Slaughter's isn't the only such story I've heard recently about I-40 in Arizona. As noted up top one owner operator wrote in to note a case of their own, $800 lighter with repairs and hotel costs waiting on service to shocks down the line. Jimmy Woods said he felt that I-40 eastbound out of California all the way past Flagstaff, "Borders on neglect and is certainly unsafe." He went on, "In my personal opinion as a truck driver, they're setting themselves up for a hefty lawsuit if someone were to crash through there and a lawyer prove that to be negligence."

With pieces as big as brake shoes falling off of Slaughter's rig is not out of the realm possibility of course. Barbara Hankins trucking for most of the last couple of decades has to travel this stretch of I-40 twice weekly. "Mile marker 93 to 121 eastbound," she says, "Is by far the worst road I have traveled in all of that time," she said. "Steer tires replaced three times, multiple alignments and the like," she added. Noting "Work around Flagstaff is fairly routine to see but in parts west, the rest of the highway is just crumbling." And she asked, "Isn't that why we pay road tax on that overpriced fuel?" Another owner-operator Overdrive News editor Matt Cole spoke to in Wyoming at Shell Super Rigs voiced similar concerns about the stretch.

Jake Bast: So my name's Jake Bass. I live in Shoshone, Idaho, lease to Ram Transportation in Brownsville, Oregon, the west's best flatbed outfit if you ask me. We pretty much have two lanes. We run all 48 states, a handful of us and then the rest of them all up and down I-5. So we got kind of all four corners covered, hauling machinery, equipment, laminated glue beams, [inaudible 00:12:54] steel, whatever it takes to service our customer the best. So I pretty much work between northern Oregon, southern Washington to the east coast, southeast Florida, Georgia, Alabama, New England, a lot of Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

Works out really good for me because I'm pretty lazy. So this way I only have to load once or twice a month. These guys killing it up and down I-5 are doing it every other day and I just don't want to work that hard. So it works out well. I only have to tarp once or twice a month. So yeah, secret's out now, but that's why I like to do it.

Well, in the last couple years it's just everywhere. I'm not trying to get political, but this infrastructure has gone in the garbage. So I mean I think right now, and I know I could probably name you 20 guys that are screaming at me to spit it out between Interstate 40 pretty much the entire way. But literally the most unsafest stretch of road in my opinion right now is between Kingman and top of Flag. Probably on the other side it gets just as bad, don't get me wrong, but everything is just falling apart right now.

And then they want to pull us over and write us a ticket because we've got a cracked brake liner or something or a shock bolt broke. But yet we're trying to straddle potholes and it's literally unsafe at night some of these stretches a road, to be out there in the dark where you can't steer around these holes and what's going on. Then they want to write you a ticket for not maintaining your lane. Well you're not maintaining the lane for us to maintain our lane. And that's a lot of maintaining.

Joey Slaughter: It's gotten so bad they really need to just close the entire road and start over. There's no way they can close one lane and fix this. Both lanes are disasters. On Twitter I follow and he said he went through there four days ago and he saw the construction workers pouring the bagged asphalt into the road. I mean at least that's something, I mean that's an improvement, but they weren't even tending to that. And there's been cases where people get killed when the roads are in such bad conditions. I've heard of... In your beloved South Carolina on Interstate 95 a while back a chunk of concrete came up behind a dump truck and flew into the windshield of a car and killed a lady.

It's very important to take care of these roads at least to a minimum condition.

Todd Dills: So what your colleagues saw out there was kind of cold patch kind of stuff?

Joey Slaughter: Yeah. That should have been done years ago. At this point it's just a bandaid where you need a tourniquet basically.

Todd Dills: There's somewhat good news here. There is some work getting going this summer noted Arizona DOT Public Information Officer Garin Groff. Scheduled to begin as early as July and as part of 2023 and 2024 "statewide critical pavement repair projects." I'll post a link to all of them in the show notes and in the post that will house the podcast overdriveonline.com when that goes live Monday, June 26th.

It looks like repaving for as much as half of the Kingman to Flagstaff route is in the hopper, but will of course take plenty of time. There are numerous other I-40 projects noted in a five-year program just recently announced for statewide road improvements by Arizona too. I'll post a link to that as well. Perhaps the state could take some lessons from others along I-40. I asked Joey Slaughter, who is doing it best in his experience. His answer wasn't very far away from Kingman at all.

Joey Slaughter: We run Interstate 40 primarily. And I mean I know every square inch of I-40 from Barstow, California to Wilmington, North Carolina. And that's the whole stretch of it. I'll tell you what, California, with the exception of couple of roads out there, has done a great job and I've been kind of impressed with CalTrans. That's their DOT. They've got a real nice... Their road surface is good most places and they're always doing work. They do a lot of work regarding drainage. I noticed that they're always getting water drainage work done. I guess out in the desert it's very important when it does rain. Yeah, you can tell it's a must be a big problem for them because they're always out there working on that drainage.

Todd Dills: Any other states along the I-40 corridor that...

Joey Slaughter: Yeah, Arkansas, I mean Arkansas' I-40, they're always working on that. That's pretty good shape as far as between Little Rock and Oklahoma State line. Between Little Rock and Memphis, that's another story, it's just so much traffic on that road. That's one of the busiest stretches of interstate in the country as far as I can tell. You got all the traffic from the Chicago area and the Rust Belt coming down that comes down 55 and gets on 40 to go down to Dallas and Houston, Texas and plus all the east west traffic. It's just way too much traffic on that road. Just kind of like Interstate 81 is.

Todd Dills: But once you get west of Little Rock on 40 it's pretty nice up there?

Joey Slaughter: Yes, yes. Yes, it is, smooth sailing.

Todd Dills: And how about you? What's the absolute worst stretch of road you encounter on your hauls today? Who's doing it right too? Dial into our podcast line to tell us at 615-852-8530 and leave your name and mailing address also, could well be a bottle of Howes Diesel Defender in it for you. Again, find links to work at least planned by Arizona DOT in the show notes, wherever you're listening. Overdrive Radio's on Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple and Google Podcasts, Stitcher and most anywhere you can find them. Subscribe so you don't miss an episode. And if you're enjoying these, leave us a rating or review there. Thanks in advance for it.

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