Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Roads Not Taken

I've been a fan of driving older highways when traveling across the area or across the country. Like anything else, time has been a factor in determining when it's been possible to do this. My last trip across from Colorado is an example; I did have enough time to divert and see some really pretty countryside in Ohio. It made the conclusion of what up to that point had been a pretty tough drive much easier and somewhat uplifting as well.

I thought about this when the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced in late July that it was raising toll rates 10 percent for drivers paying cash, but not raising tolls for those using the E-Z Pass electronic toll collection system. Their justification for this was that it's more expensive to collect cash tolls, and they want to encourage Turnpike users to sign up for E-Z Pass.

Callers to local talk radio during the week that the news of the increase broke were concerned about their vehicle movements being tracked. Some also complained about some toll roads that have gone completely cashless, relying solely on transponder-based payment and license plate ID and billing of those vehicles not so equipped. Those bills, I should add, usually come with extra fees attached, especially if you are in a rental car. This is one reason why we should have just stayed on US-1 on our honeymoon in Florida, and also why I will not travel the E-470 beltway around Metro Denver.

I really don't have a problem with the E-Z Pass, but I don't have one because I don't have the need for one. I have relatives who use the Turnpike regularly for business; that and the large amounts of truck and other commercial traffic validate the Turnpike system's position as a major component in the engine of commerce. This includes the short spur between US-22 and I-376 at the Pittsburgh Airport, and I-376 itself between Chippewa and New Castle.

For those occasions when time is money, then the Turnpike system may likely be the only cost-effective alternative to get to where you or your goods and services need to be as quickly as possible over land. If, however, you are a tourist or traveling family without an E-Z Pass, it will make the Turnpike even more expensive.

are viable alternatives.

This is not to say that I won't ever drive the Turnpike again. As a historic road, the Turnpike has features that I have yet to see, most notably the 13 miles of abandoned highway (including two tunnels) just east of Breezewood. My brother and I did once traverse the tunnel between the two service plazas at Midway, back in the 70's before they closed access to the public.

These are the fun things about traveling that are too often forgotten in the rush of life, and even the rush of vacations. For too many of us, the journey is not as important as the destination. It kind of mirrors the approach toward life that many have taken in the age of instant information, conspicuous consumption, and a preponderance toward self-gratification.

So when I plan to go somewhere, I try to make the time for a more leisurely and interesting drive than would otherwise be afforded by Interstate highways. Leslie and I experienced a little of this on US-1 south of West Palm Beach, which I thought would be more interesting than I-95. We went through many small business districts, eventually arriving at Lake Worth. The business district was very lively and attractive, with some beautiful old cypress trees around City Hall. We ate at Dave's Last Resort, and spoke at length with one of the proprietors, who grew up in Aliquippa.

In the Pittsburgh area, there are plenty of options. US-30, US-40, US-22, and US-19 all run through the general area, and while at times congested by local traffic are nevertheless much more interesting than any Interstate. I have a long-term affinity for US-6, and would love to take it from Meadville to at least Scranton someday.

Fortunately, there are online utilities such as Google Maps that give users the option of obtaining directions excluding highways and/or toll roads when possible.

Consider spending a little more time enjoying more of the journey, as well as the destination, the next time you decide to travel. As Robert Frost once said, it may make all the difference.

Have a good weekend ahead.

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