X to Nowhere

On December 16, 2010 · 8 Comments

There are many places that have been labeled a "[Name You Favorite Transportation Infrastructure] to Nowhere" either to reference an abandoned site or to flag an improvement that seems to benefit an unusually small constituency. I’ll mention two rather well-known instances briefly while intentionally ignoring the political issues involved as the gory details aren’t particularly important to this article. I’ll then focus a larger portion of my attention on something I stumbled upon recently by happenstance.

Bridge to Nowhere



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This designation came to great prominence in 2005 when Congress considered an appropriation of more than $300 million for the Gravina Island Bridge across the Tongass Narrows. The bridge would have provided a direct connection between Ketchikan, Alaska on Revillagigedo Island with its airport on Gravina Island. Residents had been using a ferry service that ran every 15-30 minutes.

The Gravina Island Bridge was not funded after a considerable public outcry. It wasn’t the most cost-effective solution for the 8,900 residents of Ketchikan.

There are other “bridges to nowhere” including those located in:

  • New Zealand (built in anticipation of roads never constructed)
  • Arizona (replaced by another bridge)
  • Scotland (intended to link to a structure never built)

Airport to Nowhere



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As I write this article in December 2010, the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Pennsylvania handles three scheduled commercial airline arrivals and departures each day. It is a participant in the Essential Air Service (EAS), a government program designed to subsidize flights to communities that would otherwise lose commercial air service in a deregulated environment.

The airport is rather sensitive about the label and offers an explanation.


Highway to Nowhere



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I discovered an odd little spur in Illinois as I examining Interstate Highways to search for corner-cutting segments. The label said Interstate 180 and it led mysteriously to a tiny corner along the Illinois River. Hennepin seems like a nice enough place but what distinguishes this village of 700 people from thousands of other settlements with similar populations? Why do they have a 13-mile magic carpet ride to the outside world while others travel along country lanes?

It had nothing to do with the fine people of Hennepin as far as I could determine. I’m sure they deserve good things although perhaps not their own personalized Interstate spur. The justification used at the time, the late 1960’s, focused on an alternate purpose: a steel mill and rolling plant. One hears about "Interstate Highways" but the complete name is actually the "Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways." Steel is a vital military component that needs to be transported along defense highways in times of war.

Are you satisfied with that explanation? I’m not. All manner of well-maintained state and county roads radiate from Hennepin and exit onto nearby Interstate highways. It’s not like these lightly-traveled rural byways would completely choke with traffic during national emergencies. Google Maps estimates an 18-minute trip from Hennepin to Interstate 80 via I-180 and a 23-minute trip to Interstate 39 via State Route 71. The spur saves five minutes.

This isn’t a secret or a surprise. Kurami.com’s 3-digit interstate highways page examined the situation and provided a great explanation (source citations are available on the Kurami page):

I-180 was added to the Interstate system on Jan. 25, 1967; and opened in the fall of 1969. In 1970, a study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that I-180 was constructed to satisfy the demands of a steel company (Jones & Laughlin) looking to locate a plant in Hennepin. By objective criteria, more important routes in Tacoma and Tucson were turned down at the same time I-180 was approved. "No other interstate route has been constructed primary to serve a private manufacturing company, and no other interstate spur serves an area with such a small population," the GAO said. Another surprise: the $44M freeway’s cost per mile was about four times the prevailing rate at the time.

The mill closed soon thereafter, reopened in 2002 and closed once again in 2009, passing through a variety of different owners along the way. The Illinois Department of Transportation considers I-180 the least traveled interstate in the state. It is covered by only 2,000 vehicles daily. There are vague plans to connect this with a four-lane road to Peoria but until then it will continue to serve as a highway to nowhere.

There are lots of X’s to Nowhere. Which one is your favorite?

On December 16, 2010 · 8 Comments

8 Responses to “X to Nowhere”

  1. Neil says:

    I’ve been a fan of two Bridges to Nowhere

    The first was actually 3 bridges to nowhere, but 2 now carry traffic –
    The Stack over West Hartford, CT.

    The second is the bridge that carries US 9 & 20 over the Hudson River between Albany and Rensselaer. Clearly there were bigger plans for this bridge, based on the eastern end.

    • Neil, the link to The Stack seems to be broken, but I think you mean this one referenced on Kurumim.com?

      The North-South routes on this spider web dead-end. It’s easier to see when one opens this within Google Maps and looks for the roads that are not highlighted right as one prepares to pop into Street View.



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      • I shared The Stack with Steve of Connecticut Museum Quest, and he added a couple other Connecticut road oddities to the list:

        Here’s another part of the unrealized beltway: see all the half ramps? If you zoom out from that and scroll north, you can sort of see the cleared right of way that has never been developed. And while you can’t really tell, north of Hartford is a random 1 mile stretch of real highway that was built in the middle of nothing but tobacco fields and stuff that was to be part of the loop.”

        • Peter says:

          The Stack was the first component of the proposed I-291, which would encircle the core of the Hartford metropolitan area. I-291 would link with I-84 both east and west (the Stack) of Hartford and with I-91 north and south of the city. Only two of the four components of I-291 ever got built: I-84 west of Hartford to I-91 south of Hartford, which is known as Route 9 and uses part of the Stack, and I-91 north of Hartford to I-84 east of Hartford, which actually bears the I-291 name.

          I can recall seeing some obvious cleared right-of-way sections north of Hartford about 20 years ago. As best I can remember they weren’t far from the University of Hartford campus, however upon looking through the satellite photos in Google Maps I can’t find them today. It’s not that “random 1 mile stretch of real highway” to which you link, as that’s well north of the proposed I-291 path. Beyond the r-o-w clearing there was no construction work ever undertaken on the I-84 west – I-91 north segment. As far as I know there never was any actual work on the I-91 south – I-84 east segment.

  2. Cape May says:

    Many towns in PA participate in the EAS service. In fact, I suspect PA has more EAS cities than any other in the nation. I think this is partially a factor of PA being heavily served by Allegheny Airlines in the past – there are more passenger-ready small airports than anywhere else in the nation with some exceptions. The transportation largesse was on both sides of the aisle – just next to Johnstown is Altoona, whose congressman Bud Shuster handed out transportation dollars par excellence. Just look at Interstate 99…

    http://www.pahighways.com/interstates/I99.html

  3. Peter says:

    Were it not for the EAS subsidies the Johnstown airport would not have any commercial airline service, but the airport itself would still exist. It has a useful purpose as a general aviation field. For that reason, I wouldn’t consider it an airport to nowhere – though it does have a “passenger terminal to nowhere” 🙂

    The explanation on the airport’s website is correct insofar as it notes that many other EAS airports get much higher subsidies, but that’s not the entire story. Many if not most EAS airports are in fairly remote locations at least several hours’ drive from the nearest airports with (unsubsidized) airline service. Johnstown isn’t in that situation, as the Pittsburgh airport is only about a 90- to 120-minute drive away.

  4. Joe says:

    The one that came to my mind instantly was the eastern terminus of I-70 near Baltimore into a parking lot.
    http://www.interstate-guide.com/i-070.html

    Another local one that comes to mind is at I-64 in downtown St. Louis. There were originally plans for a downtown freeway to run north and connect with I-70 north of downtown. However, that never happened so we are left with elaborate off ramps dumping into city streets.



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  5. Being a Seattleite, my favorite “…to nowhere” are the 520 offramps to nowhere, a product of the started-but-never-finished R.H. Thomson Expressway. I believe they are due to be removed when 520 is rebuilt from I-5 to Medina sometime this decade.

    http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&File_Id=3114 — the history
    http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=520+offramp+nowhere — some pictures



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