Each road trip I took offered different opportunities for County Counting, whether as a stated goal or as an amusing side project. I examined the situation carefully before departing so I could see how I might augment my lifetime list. I’d done pretty well in New England during previous visits. Nonetheless those earlier trips had occurred for different purposes. Their distinct objectives left behind a number of unsightly doughnut holes of yet-to-be-visited counties. My map looked something like this prior to my departure:
Those counties in white represented places I hadn’t captured. Some were contiguous and could be combined into sets. Overall they were spread into distinct pockets cast broadly across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. That presented some challenges. I needed to devise a plan that aligned with race locations and minimized detours. The Mob Rule county counting website and its driving directions utility helped immensely. I could enter exact latitude/longitude coordinates while drafting prospective routes, overlaying my map of visited counties to see see how and where I needed to move. I designed a target course that in fact I finished in its entirety:
Readers familiar with highways in the northeastern United States probably noticed that I avoided the most obvious, most direct route between Virginia and New England; the dreaded Interstate 95. We left on a Friday and I didn’t want to thread the needle in narrow windows that avoided morning and afternoon rush hours in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Also, nobody could ever predict when an accident might clog I-95 with a multi-hour delay. That route was too unpredictable. Instead I decided to take a wildly inefficient path that would grant me an opportunity to fill a few doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York along the way.
We began heading due north into the heart of central Pennsylvania, then due east, essentially two legs of a triangle where the hypotenuse of course would have been the shorter I-95. That allowed me to pick up two clusters of previously non-visited Pennsylvania counties: first Northumberland, Montour and Columbia, and later Carbon and Monroe. Next the path cut diagonally across the lower corner of New York — although way beyond the sprawl of New York City — capturing Sullivan and Columbia (not to be confused with the Columbia County in Pennsylvania). We hadn’t arrived at our primary destination and I’d captured seven counties already!
The three New Hampshire counties were easy grabs. Carroll and Belknap needed only tiny detours. Cheshire fell directly on the path between races and I didn’t have to detour at all. Massachusetts was similarly easy. One of the races took place in Franklin County so that was certainly convenient. Hampshire County was just a short drive south so I snagged it with little effort.
Then there was Vermont
I agonized over Vermont as I planned the trip. The drive between our New Hampshire race and Vermont crossed the southern tier of both states, a direct route that would take about an hour under ordinary circumstances. I needed to drive the length of Vermont and loop around its northern tip along winding country roads to visit three scattered counties. That would turn a single hour trip into a six hour expedition for little payday. It seemed excessive and I planned to pass it up. However, little else seemed to interest me along the most direct route. I’d scoured that corner for attractions during a previous trip back in 2010, and I’m not one who generally wants to see the same place twice. How many times does someone need to visit the Phineas Gage Monument? I’d undertaken more elaborate efforts than this six hour county counting quest, I supposed, so that’s how it unfolded. We ran into a couple of interesting places along the way so it all worked out. For instance, I didn’t realize ahead of time that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory fell directly along our path until we drove through Waterbury. Nothing said Vermont more than Ben and Jerry’s and that became a nice break after several hours on the road.
I also spotted a sign for a brewery as we drove through the town of Morrisville, the Rock Art Brewery, and the place was open. That was another nice break. Beer Geeks might wonder why we didn’t stop at Alchemist Brewing as we drove through Stowe. It was closed to the public at the time.
I am a meticulous planner. That’s just the way my mind works. Nonetheless it was enjoyable, and perhaps a bit liberating to go largely unscripted for much of a day. We discovered plenty of unexpected amusements as the path unfolded. I was exhausted as the sun set and we had another race at 6:00 am the next morning. I’d have to think twice about taking such a long detour next time for the sole purpose of counting counties.
My total hit 100% completion for three new states by the end of the trip; Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. I also filled in doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York, bringing the total haul of new counties to 15. I left a good reason to return, too. I am now only three counties away from finishing all of New England. Someday I’ll have to travel to the northern tip of Maine and get those final three. Maybe I could combine it with a trip to Atlantic Canada.
Several 12MC readers have alerted me to an article that I found fascinating and I’m sure the rest of you will too: Altered state: Border redraw moves 19 homes in the Carolinas.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
It dawned on me recently, as I drove around the Washington, DC area, that there seemed to be an inordinate number of reversible road lanes that switched directions on regular schedules. The occurrence that got me thinking about this was a one-block section of Washington Boulevard (map) on the western edge of Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood
Washington Blvd., Arlington, Virginia, USA
via Google Street View, July 2014
I’ve driven through that slot a number of times and I never gave it much of a second thought. It seemed rather self-explanatory. Overhead lights with green arrows and red x’s denoted lanes that could be traversed depending on prevailing morning or evening traffic patterns. It made sense even if it lasted for such a short distance. It was the only three lane segment with four lanes radiating from either end. It saved on construction costs.
The variety of different types of reversible lanes also surprised me as I started ticking-off some nearby examples.
Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone in Closed Lane on Chesapeake Bay Bridge! by William Johns, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge (map) connecting Maryland’s eastern shore to the rest of the state provided yet another example of overhead lights signaling traffic flow. The bridge accommodated prevailing traffic to and from Atlantic Ocean resorts especially during the summertime. More lanes opened towards the beach on Fridays and pointed back towards home on Sundays, almost like the ebb and flow of tides.
Overhead lights exposed an inherit problem: people needed to understand that lanes could reverse and they also needed to know what the symbols meant. "Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone" had obvious difficulties with one or both of those concepts.
Just a Sign
'Signs' — Chain Bridge (VA) January 2014 by Ron Cogswell, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Chain Bridge (map) had three lanes stretching across the Potomac River between Arlington and Washington, with the middle lane reversible. Only a single sign told motorists about the unusual situation (Street View). Presumably daily commuters traveling over the bridge during critical hours would already understand the situation. Woe to the poor visitor who happened to cross the bridge at an inopportune time and not see the sign.
A Machine Does All the Work
Roosevelt Bridge, Washington, DC, USA
via Google Street View, August 2014
Another Potomac River bridge between Arlington and Washington, the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge (map) offered a better solution. The reversible section had a concrete barrier to keep drivers from making a mistake. An odd little machine moved the barrier twice a day to accommodate commuters. This unusual arrangement was created by Lindsay Transportation Solutions.
The moveable barrier system enables the DOT to quickly reconfigure traffic lanes and directional capacity on the bridge in less than 15 minutes (the bridge is just under one mile in length). The Barrier Transfer Machine (BTM) safely transfers the barrier one or two traffic lanes at speeds from seven to ten miles per hour. A magnetic tape grooved into the pavement guides the BTM and ensures precise placement of the barrier wall.
That seemed a lot safer than signs or overhead lights.
Completely Reversible with a Sign
IMG_4012 by bankbryan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Some of our local roads were completely reversible. The Rock Creek Parkway (map) — actually called the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in official terms, which I didn’t know until a few minutes ago — operated with two lanes in both directions most of the time. However in the morning all four lanes headed towards Washington and all four lanes returned traffic to the suburbs in the evening. Monday through Friday. Except Federal holidays. Make an error reading a sign (Street View) and find oneself heading towards the wrong way on a four-lane highway.
I would stay away from here on Columbus Day. Federal government employees are about the only people who get the day off. Imagine everyone else forgetting about that quirk and thinking it was a normal Monday commute. Yikes!
Completely Reversible and Safer
Interstate 395 – Virginia by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
A stretch of Interstate 95 and Interstate 395 (map) from Northern Virginia into the District featured two High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that switched directions for the morning and evening commutes, sandwiched between and completely separate from the regular highway lanes. These are being converted into High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes although the concept will remain largely the same.
These seemed considerably safer. Barrier arms blocked access to ramps that led to these special lanes so that cars traveling in the "wrong" direction couldn’t make a mistake. The arms raised when the lanes reversed and it was safe to travel that direction again.
There were several more reversible lanes in the area that I didn’t have space to mention. Also Wikipedia had an entire article devoted to reversible lanes in other parts of the world so I imagined they were rather prevalent. It was funny how I’ve grown so used to seeing them that I never considered how weird they seemed conceptually.
I stumble across the most fascinating bits of information in unexpected places. It happened this time as I examined the unusually-wide median strip between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 8 in southern California. I learned of a nearby oddity further down the highway while reviewing various roadfan websites.
A motorist will encounter the lowest overland elevation in the entire Interstate Highway System just to the east of the extreme central reservation I’d discovered earlier. It is listed as 52 feet (16 meters) below sea level by the U.S. Government’s Federal Highway Administration.
It’s not the lowest elevation of any road of any type within the U.S. — that’s Badwater Road in Death Valley which provides access to the lowest public restroom in North America (~ -282 ft, -86 m) — just the lowest natural point of elevation in the Interstate Highway System. It’s still pretty impressive, though.
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This happens in the vicinity of Exit 107 where I-8 crosses the New River. Notice the channel. The road dips down here as it crosses the river over a short bridge. Where, I wondered, could the New River be flowing if it was already more than fifty feet below sea level here? Certainly it would not be flowing to the sea. It much be part of an endorheic basin, and indeed that is the case.
The New River begins in Baja California, Mexico where it’s known as the Río Nuevo. It passes through the wonderfully conjoined portmanteau cities of Mexicali and Calexico. From there it flows under the I-8 bridge west of El Centro, and on to the Salton Sea. The surface elevation of the Salton Sea is -226 ft (-69 m) so whatever flows along the New River won’t leave the Salton Sea on its own unless it’s able to evaporate.
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That’s a problem. This Street View image from the point of lowest Interstate elevation shows one of the most polluted bodies of water in the nation. Sewage, pesticide-laden agricultural runoff, and industrial waste from businesses located along the ditch then dump into a basin without an outflow. Toxins and pathogens collect in extreme concentrations, creating a most foul situation. Those driving at high speed along I-8, crossing this point of lowest elevation, likely never consider the drawbacks of this dubious honor.
Let’s put one more asterisk onto the claim. There are other places along the Interstate Highway Systems with a lower elevation. However, they are located in tunnels. A similar situation exists in Canada.
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The Intertubes claims that the Fort McHenry Tunnel carrying I-95 traffic through Baltimore, Maryland represents the absolutely lowest Interstate elevation at 107 ft (33 m) below sea level. It passes in close proximity to historic Fort McHenry, as implied by the name, the battlefield site inspiring the Star Spangled Banner. It then drops below Baltimore Harbor. I’d post a Street View image except that the interior of a tunnel isn’t exactly the most exciting scenery available (check for yourself if you must).
While the exalted position of the Fort McHenry tunnel seemed to be conventional wisdom for the cyberspace masses, it was not the only candidate offered. I discovered numerous other claims. I could not, however, nail-down a definitive source. Another option included the I-93 Thomas P. "Tip" O’Neill Tunnel, part of the Big Dig project in Boston, Massachusetts. The I-64 Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia was also mentioned frequently. I know we have several roadfans who read 12MC regularly so hopefully someone can provide a proper citation and we can put these issues to rest. I’ve driven through all three of these tunnels so I’m covered no matter how it turns out. Funny, I never realized I was experiencing a true geo-oddity during any of my transits.
I’ve never driven on I-8 through California though. I look forward to experiencing both the wide median and the lowest overland elevation someday.