Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On the Road: SigAlerts and Helicopters

Most major cities will have websites and apps to let motorists know when a traffic situation or accident will disrupt the flow of traffic for a lengthy period of time. In cities like Los Angeles and New York City, SigAlert will let drivers know the location of the problem and how far the backup extends. Other options for a traveler to use to check a route are the traffic section of Google Maps or a traffic app like Waze.

Consulting apps and websites before embarking on a journey may not be able to show a driver an accident that has just happened. That is why motorists should keep an eye on the sky. In Los Angeles another signal to alert drivers that something is wrong is the presence of helicopters. Traffic copters will circle around an accident area, so I always dread when I notice helicopters over the interstate. If I see them in time and notice the slowing of traffic, I will get off the highway at the next exit so I will not spend my time sitting in traffic congestion.

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)

Car chases occur frequently in California and are televised by helicopters. These chases also cause traffic problems. One day I was watching television and recognized the area where the car chase was taking place near Santa Clarita. I decided to watch the situation as the police continued to follow the car. I kept the tv on while I did other things. After a while, I heard the helicopters overhead. When I looked at the television,  I noticed the car chase was on the street where I was staying. I went out on the balcony to look and that was when I heard the gun shots. The police were shooting at the motorist. The street was closed down and traffic around the area came to a halt.

I have seen quite a few other traffic situations that have impeded the flow of traffic and brought out the helicopters. If they are after a fugitive, the police will send a copter to hover over the area to give them any assistance they may require. One night I was staying in a really nice neighborhood and heard the helicopters overhead. The police were on a speaker telling the person in a neighboring house to come out with his hands up in the air. This situation went on for over an hour and prevented vehicles from entering the neighborhood. Another example of the use of helicopters in California is to help fight and monitor fires. Any situation involving firefighting will seriously affect traffic in the area. Once again the presence of helicopters should alert any motorist to be vigilant that something is wrong in that area. While keeping eyes on the road is a good idea, drivers would be wise to check the sky as well!

(Photo taken in 2014)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Spurs, Bypasses and Beltways: Michigan and Minnesota

English: Lighthouse of Benton Harbor and St. J...
English: Lighthouse of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Detroit area in Michigan has the most auxiliary highways. Interstate 275 begins at I-75 north of Monroe and travels 35 miles north to I-96 near Farmington Hills. Interstate 375 uses its one mile to link the Civic Center near the Detroit River to I-75. Interstate 696 is just under 30 miles long and leaves I-94 at Exit 229 to travel west to I-96.

In Flint Interstate 475 leaves I-75 at Exit 125 and travels to the east and then south for 17 miles. It rejoins I-75 south of Flint after passing over I-69. Interstate 675 in Saginaw leaves I-75 at Exit 155 and travels southwest and then east for eight miles before joining I-75 at Exit 150. The 12 miles of Interstate 496 in Lansing begin their journey at Exit 95 on I-96. I-496 travels directly east and then takes a turn directly south at Red Cedar. It rejoins I-96 at Exit 106. Finally, Interstate 196 begins its journey west and then south when it departs I-96 at Exit 37 in Grand Rapids. It travels 81 miles and ends in Benton Harbor where it joins I-94.

Three of the four auxiliary interstates in Minnesota are located in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Interstate 394 is ten miles in length and links I-494 to 4th Street in Minneapolis. Leaving I-94 at Exit 216 is Interstate 494 that travels to the south along the western side of Minneapolis before making a right turn to the east at Eden Prairie. After taking another turn to the north at the Mississippi River, this highway rejoins I-94 at Exit 249. At this exit I-494 becomes Interstate 694 which travels 31 miles north and then west to join I-494 at Exit 216. The two together create a beltway around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area with I-494 on the Minneapolis side and I-694 on the St. Paul side. Interstate 535 in Duluth uses its three miles to connect I-35 to US 53 in Superior, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On the Road: Know the Old Roads

Last week I went to do some shopping and took the interstate to get to my destination. After a couple exits the traffic began to slow down significantly.  Then I saw the sea of red tail lights ahead of me and decided I needed to take an alternate route since I absolutely hate waiting in traffic. Fortunately, I was by an exit so when the traffic stopped completely, I was able to get off the interstate and take the back roads until I could get back on the interstate at another entrance.

Before the Interstate Highway System was built, drivers had other highways they utilized to get to their destinations. Most of these highways still exist and in some places they run parallel to the interstates. Before I travel, I look at the atlas to determine which interstates I will be traveling, but I also check to see what other highways run in the same direction. An accident that involves a fatality or a semi that has jackknifed can paralyze interstate traffic for an hour or more. When I have many hours to drive before I stop for the night, I do not want to spend my time sitting in traffic. I need to be aware of alternate routes.


I was driving through Indianapolis late one night. I saw a highway advisory sign that said when the lights were flashing, motorists should turn to a certain radio channel. I realized the lights were flashing, but by that time I had driven past the sign. When I am driving by myself, I cannot try to quickly find a radio station while trying to drive safely in the dark. All cars were directed off the interstate at the next exit and since I did not know which way to go, I followed the truckers. We went through small town after small town and I did not feel safe enough to pull over to check the map to see where I was. I had to trust that the truckers knew what was happening. After a long time of driving, the truckers all made a turn and I followed them back to the interstate.

When I got home, I checked the map to see what road I had to travel for the detour. It was US 40 which is a highway that that runs from New Jersey to Utah. Sometimes this highway runs parallel to the interstate and sometimes it runs as a part of the interstate. Motorists can tell by the addition of a highway sign with the interstate sign. I-70, I-64, I-68 and I-95 are all involved at some point with US 40 which is sometimes known as the National Road. In the photo one can see that Interstate 70 runs south of US 40 at some points and in other areas north of it. In the future all I have to do is check the map quickly to see which way I need to turn at the exit if I ever have leave the interstate in case of a backup or closure. I already know that US 40 is an option for me if I need to use it.

In South Carolina, motorists had to use US 21 before construction of Interstate 77 was completed. This highway was a more direct route, but ran through many small towns where drivers had to significantly reduce their speed. US 21 still provides an alternate route for I-77 if a situation warrants the use of it. At various points in Georgia and South Carolina US 17 runs close to Interstate 95.

Every state has alternate routes to the interstate that drivers can use. When I travel I prefer to use the interstates, but I always research before each day's drive to have a working knowledge of what alternate highways I can use if I need to do so.

(Photo taken in 2014)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Spurs, Bypasses and Beltways: Massachusetts

The Harbor Towers (far right) are very promine...
The Harbor Towers (far right) are very prominent in the Boston skyline when viewed from Boston Harbor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Interstates 90, 91 and 95 all have auxiliary highways in Massachusetts. The longest of these is the 121 miles of Interstate 495 which is the bypass for the city of Boston. I-495, which departs from Interstate 95 as soon as that interstate enters Massachusetts, travels to the west of I-95 and links the cities of Lawrence, Chelmsford, Hudson, Franklin and Middleboro. It crosses I-95 in the south and continues east ending at I-195. Interstate 195, which is 40 miles long, begins in Providence, Rhode Island at I-95 and ends at I-495 near Wareham. Beginning at I-95 in Warwick, Rhode Island is Interstate 295 that travels 27 miles to the west of I-95 and ends in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Interstate 395 runs 66.63 miles from I-90 in Auburn to I-95 in East Lyme, Connecticut.

Interstate 190 is just over 19 miles and connects Route 2 in Leominster with I-290 in Worcester. The 20 miles of Interstate 290 connect I-90 to I-495. Finally, the last two auxiliary highways are very short. Interstate 291 is just over five miles long and joins I-91 to I-90. Linking I-91 to High Street in Holyoke is the less than five miles of Interstate 391.