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The Dual Personalities of I-95

October 19, 2009

The East Coast is blessed with an excellent system of Interstates connecting the majority of its urban centers.  Running from the Maine/Canada border to Miami, Interstate 95 is the backbone of the East Coast Interstate System.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify all following comments:  As the backbone of the East Coast Interstate System,  I-95 faces a near impossible task.  It connects everything that needs to be connected and does so in an efficient manner.  Though some of its construction is ancient, the majority of the roadway has been upgraded and can (barely) accommodate the amount of traffic that it faces on a daily basis.  The highway is slightly more than adequate at providing an essential service to the 110 Million people that reside in its region (that’s right, 37% of the nation’s population lives in the corridor of a single highway).  That said, from the perspective of this blog’s mission to report on the roads for passionate drivers, Interstate 95 is one of the worst roads to go out and enjoy… or is it?

Find out after the jump…


This weekend’s drive was a fairly short portion of the total 1,917 miles that I-95 stretches.  Clocking in at approximately 230 miles from EveryRoadTraveled’s world headquarters in Philadelphia to Richmond, Virginia, this section of I-95 is one of the most heavily traveled and includes the Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Richmond urban areas.  On top of that it is under constant construction.  

The drive this weekend was less than enjoyable.  Heavy traffic, accidents, drivers with abilities similar to children in big wheels, it all combines for a hectic and stressful journey.  The poor driving of those you must share the road with is of particular note.  The left lane on 95 tends to develop a new purpose.  Instead of being utilized as a passing lane, it takes on a totally unique role of a place for those with no particular place to go and no particular time to be where they may or may not be going. It becomes the supermarket on a Saturday.

The road itself is designed in a purely functional fashion.  Built in the height of the Cold War, I-95 seems devoted to that era.  It has a “funnel everything to DC” attitude that makes exiting the DC corridor an arduous task.  Though the beltway assists to a degree, it also exasperates the issue (think about a wheel without adequate spokes and how hard it is to get to the hub).  The road surface is inconsistent.  In the Maryland suburbs of DC it is smooth of glass with recent renovation, but in parts of Delaware or more rural sections of Virginia, it is grooved concrete with tracking that is about as good as a noseless bloodhound.

Yet this road still lends itself to an emotional connection for me.  Hit it at 11pm on a Friday night or 7am on a Sunday morning (as I was known to do in the past) and it is pure and unadulterated magic.  While the traffic slumbers in its suburban garage, the battle against the road surface fades as the threat of someone drifting or bouncing into you dissipates and the stretches of refurbished tarmac seem to grow. The overhead lights, the rest stops, the other drivers on the road all take on a totally different personality during these low use hours.  A trip from Philadelphia to DC (or the reverse) can take 1/3rd less time to complete during these hours.  Not because you are driving any faster or more aggressively, but because the road is yours.  This feeling of the road being “yours” is truly at the heart of I-95’s dual personality.

Though it applies to any road, I-95 ends up significantly impacted by this sense of “possession.”  Sharing a typical road is no problem, but 95 and its particular breed of driver makes sharing a true issue.  The road itself has some potential, but your chances to get to experience it are so limited that it almost becomes unreasonable to attribute it any potential at all.
Thanks to TechnicallyPhilly.com for the photo.

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