Thursday, April 05, 2007

The worst highway in America (or at least the North Shore)

Any road with a speed limit over fifty miles per hour should not be a quaint reminder of olden days. Any road with a speed limit over fifty miles per hour should be a well-honed marvel of engineering designed for nothing more or less than getting vehicles from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible. One such road that meets this criteria is unwieldly sounding conglomeration of Rtes. 95 and 128 running from the South Shore to the North Shore.

Now, it may be a bit tricky to explain to out-of-staters that this highway with two designations is one road for a good stretch of miles, but as long as Rte 128 is piggybacking on that wonderful Interstate of Rte. 95, I have no other complaints.
But once 95 and 128 decide to go their separate ways, 95 sleekly whizzing north toward New Hampshire and 128 lazily winding its way up to Cape Ann, that's when the problems start. You've been driving north along on a three-to-four lane superhighway and suddenly the road splits, with Rte. 128 North merging down to two lanes. Now, on a non-rainy day, traveling in the lefthand lane isn't all that big of a deal, if you can overlook the fact that a highway probably shouldn't have banked curves strasight from Daytona Speedway,but as soon as that first drop of rain falls, you're screwed.
Potholes quickly fill to the depth of Lake Erie with a steady stream of feeder rivers taking up at least half of the lane. For safety's sake, you consider moving over into the righthand lane, where at least the water isn't rising up to your windshield.

But driving in the righthand lane of Rte. 128 is never a good idea. Apparently, whoever designed this road during the Truman adminsitration didn't feel the need for acceleration lanes. Which means that every car traveling in the right lane has to battle merging traffic that has, on average, ten to fifteen feet, to get up to speed. Now, I'm no expert in mechanical physics, but I'm pretty sure that most cars, even really fast red sports cars, need more than ten or fifteen feet to hit 60 miles per hour. There are even some onramps where there isn't even the ghost of an acceleration lane. Nope. There are actually stop signs. Stop signs to get onto a major highway. Nothing like testing your reflexes trying to judge when you can go from a deadstop into speeding traffic.

I have no idea if the state has any plans to turn Rte. 128 into a modern highway, but I have a feeling that if it does, it could be a very long and annoying project. Last summer, MassHighway spent months on a project that caused miles-long back ups during the day for several months as they took down old highway signs and replaced them with virtually indistinguishable new highway signs. I can only imagine what kind of confusion a real construction project would cause.

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Blogger Nick said...

As someone who grew up just off this highway, you have to realize that to local folks, this is how highway driving is for most of our local travel. The "path" of 128 dates back more than 200 years. With all the houses built up around it (particularly in the Peabody, Danvers and Beverly area), what do you expect Mass Highway to do - there's no room to expand! The real interesting thing is, you'd be surprised how many fewer accidents there are on this stretch of 128 as compared to say 95 South heading to Providence where people often go upwards of 80mph. So just because it's smaller and more congested, doesn't mean it's totally unsafe.

9:00 PM  
Blogger pjm said...

I know of a few on-ramps on 78 (aka 22) in Pennsylvania, between Allentown and the merge with 80, which have stop signs. Yes, it's terrifying.

9:32 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

Haven't spent much time in California, have you? Because getting onto a highway in CA requires that you stop for a traffic light before you get onto the highway. It's a way of keeping the traffic flowing. You get used to it. And if you have more than one person in the car, you actually can get on faster. You still have to stop, but the light changes within seconds instead of a minute or two wait. And you wouldn't even believe the backups during rush hour. 128 might be rustic, but at least you CAN get on it in the morning without a 15 or 20 minute backup.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Tape said...

The divided highway portion of Route 2 starting roughly around Concord/Acton and going through Fitchburg is very much like this as well. I don't recall if there are actual stop signs for the oncomers at the entrance "ramp", but you definitely need to stop, because you get about the same 15 feet to get on the highway.

that stretch of road always freaks me out.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Tape said...

in reference to margalit's comment:

on the interstates going through Milwaukee, they implemented a stop signal system on the onramps a few years back, in which the onramp has two lanes and the signal alternates green and red between the two lanes allowing for pretty clean merging even during rush hour. However, the signals are a good 100 yards from the point where you actually have to merge into the freeway, so you have time to accelerate up to a reasonable speed before reaching the merge point.

I haven't been back to Milwaukee too many times since this was put in place, but all 3-4 times I have been, it was at rush hour or the still-busy outskirts thereof, and traffic flowed pretty well.

9:19 AM  
Blogger endangered coffee said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Please keep in mind that when I refer to Rte. 128 as the worst highway in America, the main criteria is that I actually have to drive on it everyday, so it's not exactly a scientific survey.

10:39 AM  

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