Truckin’ Through California

On February 12, 2013 · 1 Comments

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Grateful Dead although they were indeed from California and noted for Truckin’. It is literally about trucks in California. Feel free to listen to Truckin’ in the background if that would make you happy though.

It all started out more grandiosely. I recalled a particularly awful drive on Virginia’s Interstate 81 last November where it seemed like every other vehicle on the highway was a truck. Some were driving with extreme aggression and well above the posted speed limit. The rest were poking along well below the limit. I grew increasingly aggravated as I slalomed between them.

That incident later inspired an online quest to find a highway with the highest percentage of trucks primarily so I could forever avoid it. That quest continues. I haven’t given up that search. Meanwhile I do have an answer for California. I found a great page from the California Department of Transportation. I was able to download a spreadsheet of annual average daily truck traffic in 2011, which I then sorted appropriately to determine all California state highways with more trucks than cars. It happens rarely. Only a small handful of places throughout the state met that standard. Imagine the nightmare of routes where more than half of all vehicles are trucks, not "seems like it" but genuinely so, consistently, day after day, forever.

Of course I plotted the offending locations. I found it fascinating that almost all of them happen near borders.

View California Truck Routes in a larger map

I examined each area and I tried to determine what might account for an overabundance of truck traffic, paying particular attention to apparent clusters.

Calexico/El Centro

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The top spot went to Rt. 115 at its junction with Rt. 78 in Imperial County. Trucks composed an astounding 81.9% of recorded vehicle traffic passing this point in 2011. That is such an amazing statistical outlier — no other point in the California managed to crack even 60% — that I had to wonder if it might have been a typographical error. I checked the math and it seemed to work. Nearby, Route 98 at Cole Road in Calexico also scored high with 56.36% trucks.

All truck traffic crossing from Mexico into the United States along this particular stretch of the border uses the "Calexico East" Port of Entry. That might explain Route 98. I’m not sure it explains Rt. 115. It doesn’t seem to follow a logical path between the port of entry and the outside world. Farms and fields surround the junction. Maybe trucks address some sort of agricultural purpose here instead?

Los Angeles/Long Beach

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This one seemed more straightforward. The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest container ports in the United States. Add their volume together and they handle three times the cargo of the next busiest port, New York/New Jersey.

Two spots nearby both hit 57.52% truck traffic, on Rt. 47 where it crosses the Commodore Heim Lift Bridge and shortly thereafter where Rts. 47 and 103 split. Notice their placement on the map above. They are practically equidistant between two very active ports. A massive volume of containers heads in-and-out at any given time and this route serves a good option. It’s a wonder truck percentages weren’t higher.

Maybe the brief stretch of Interstate 40 from Needles, California to the Arizona state line falls within this same cluster, even though it’s completely across the state? The highway provides a straight shot between the ports and several distant metropolitan areas including Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Amarillo and even Oklahoma City. The southeastern interior of California wouldn’t account for much local traffic, and containers originating in Asia would need to roll east in a steady stream to distant inland cities.


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I was going to guess that truck traffic near Bakersfield might be serving agricultural needs until I drilled-down to the exact spot. The junction of Rts. 58 and 33 happens in McKittrick, which falls outside of the fertile San Joaquin Valley. The terrain looked rather rough and pretty much dug-up by human activity. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and the likely explanation:

The town is in the center of a large oil-producing region in western Kern County. Along State Route 33 to the south of the town is the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the second-largest oil field in the contiguous United States; within the town itself, as well as to the west is the McKittrick Field; to the northwest is the huge Cymric Field; and along Highway 33 beyond Cymric is the large South Belridge Oil Field, run by Aera Energy LLC. East of McKittrick is Occidental Petroleum’s Elk Hills Field, formerly the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve.

I don’t know if every truck passing through here serves the oil industry, however it seems like a plausible reason for much of the 55.55% truck volume, absent further evidence.

National Forest

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Of all roads with greater than 50% truck traffic, only Route 161 in Siskiyou County fell outside of southern California. It’s about as far away from the others as possible. The anomaly recorded 55.25% truck traffic at the far northern extreme of the state. There might be an agricultural reason because of nearby farms. There might also be another reason, forestry: Winema National Forest, Fremont National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Shasta National Forest and Klamath National Forest are nearby as are areas accessible to commercial logging. Maybe the trucks are hauling logs?

Dueling Portmanteau Placenames

On March 29, 2011 · 10 Comments

My recent article on Mexican borders visible on Street View reminded me of a situation that’s long fascinated me. It came to the forefront as I viewed this image:

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Can you find the border in this image? Sure you can. That’s a silly question. The rural area north of this amazingly stark line is the United States just outside of Calexico, California. This town in Imperial County was incorporated in 1908 and has nearly 30,000 residents. A member of my extended family lived there as early as 1915 so wow, I have another instance of a relative figuring into the early history of a town. I didn’t realize that until just now. Even my ancestors seemed to have had an interest in geo-oddities. At least I come by it honestly.

The densely settled area immediately south of the line is Mexicali, the capital of Baja California, in Mexico. It is considerably larger that Calexico with nearly 700,000 residents. Both towns were laid-out by the Imperial Land Company, which had interests in colonizing the Imperial Valley on both sides of the border. I have no idea why two towns starting at the same time by the same company now differ so completely by population. That’s not the purpose for today, though.

I’m fascinated by the names. One is a portmanteau of California + Mexico and the other is a portmanteau of Mexico + California. The only way it could have been more perfect would be to make it Calexico/Mexinia or Mexicali/Calimexi. Nonetheless I appreciate that they’re adjacent towns with sort-of opposite portmanteau names that have their roots in the underlying geography. I suppose someone will point out that Mexico is a nation and California is a state so it’s not absolutely perfect symmetry. Nonetheless it feels rather remarkable.

I started to wonder if there might be similar examples elsewhere, either in the United States or places farther afield. I couldn’t find anything that approached Calexico/Mexicali personally but figure there had to be some equally amazing examples out there somewhere. The closest I found were two towns along the border between North Carolina and Virginia: Norlina and Virgilina.

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I have two problems with this example, though.

  • They are not adjacent, nor even particularly close for that matter. It would take about an hour to drive between the two.
  • They’re both portmanteaus but they don’t reflect the underlying geography symmetrically. Virgilina does combine Virginia with North Carolina. Norlina, however, just seems to be the front and back ends of North Carolina shoved together. Where’s Virginia? For that I think it would have to be Norlinia.

I stumbled across a fun page on Wikipedia while I was investigating this. Can you believe they have an entire list of border towns in the United States with portmanteau names? There are apparently people with even more geographic curiosity on their minds and time on their hands to do something about this than I. I’m glad they’ve gone through the effort though and I love their results.

My search came to an abrupt end right here. Is anyone aware of other adjacent towns that are named in a fashion similar to Calexico/Mexicali, or can we declare this a unique instance? Maybe somewhere in Benelux since they already seem to have that theme going for them? Let’s hear what you’ve found oh wise and wonderful 12MC audience.

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