I have returned on a long business trip to the Pacific Coast with most of my driving on the new Southern version of Route 66 – arduous 2,460 miles from Jacksonville I-95 to Santa Monica Pier. It is too bad they couldn’t find a way to extend I-10 to Jacksonville Beach Pier and give it the same movie glory on the Atlantic – from pier to shining pier.
There may be three longer trans-continental Interstates in the USA, but I-10 is different for one-third of the route (879 miles) goes through just one state – Texas.
Here are some observations relating in most cases with Florida:
Green and Brown
Our flag may be red, white, and blue, but the Southern side of this nation could be described as green and brown. It is summer and the trees and grass are green and high in Florida and the Gulf Coast. When you go west of San Antonio, the land goes stark brown. The mountains look like sand piles and even the cactus seem to be small and scarce.
I saw no cowboys, no prairie dogs, no roadrunners – West Texas.
Coastal California is browner than it was several years ago. It is getting expensive in much of the West to truly go natural green even if you are environmentally green.
Urban and Rural
When you drive across the nation, it reminds me of Florida, the third most populated state. Highways in Florida cities are packed with bumper to bumper traffic during the daylight but there are still some stretches of empty roadway.
Houston In July
I-10 passes through five of the twelve most populated cities in the United States: Los Angles (2nd to NYC), Houston (4th), Phoenix (5th), San Antonio (7th), and Jacksonville (12th). Yet fully 40% of I-10 is open desert so isolated that several exits are actually the front door of large ranches.
Water and Waterless
Florida has a water situation, but except when there is a drought, Florida’s problem is too many people are jammed into Southeast Florida (the Gold Coast) where the nearest water is the Everglades. Florida has more major springs than any other place in the world and our subtropical climate results in a lot of rain. Most of our water is in North Florida.
Incredibly, we got a flood alert while at a gas station in Fort Stockton, Texas. There is nothing around this town for one hundred miles in any direction. Yet the people were running into the buildings as it started to pour. I live in Florida so I have seen rain, but in my state rain goes into the ground! Within minutes two inch waves were flowing down the dusty streets.
Imagine a person in the middle of Texas drowning in 114 degree temperature.
The land west of San Antonio had miles and miles of dry river bed waiting for a few winter rains or even snow. I kept going over bridges without a drop of water. From the top of a hill, the Colorado River looked very blue but very thin – it was a precious necklace of water which California, Arizona, and Nevada fight over.
In Florida We Don’t Appreciate the Summer Rains
I found it amusing how the tourist areas of New Mexico, Arizona, and California plant cactus is obvious unnatural settings and combinations the way Florida cities stick palm trees at every important intersection.
When you live in Florida, you expect to see highway construction projects that never end. By the time one finishes, it is time to add more lanes. I must state that Florida’s highways looked quite good compared to other states. West Louisiana had some bad roads.
Dreams do come true if you have four lanes!
But the real shocker was how many two lane Interstate 10 roads continued far into the most urban areas of big cities. AAA wanted be to drive through downtown Houston – I did not for the inner circle known as I-610. But my gosh, do people think you should go around Houston on Route 8 which adds 120 miles to your journey?
Florida has some poorly designed routes, but I saw some dillies for confused tourists out West. I don’t like the system where two Interstate merge into one and your exit numbers suddenly change before your eyes. That was in San Antonio. A section of I-10 in Los Angeles weaved around as a two lane street in a residential neighborhood. You had to believe you had missed a sign.
Of course, I know there will be a traffic jam outside Walt Disney World, but at least you will be in four or five lanes of traffic jam and not in two lanes.
Clearly the nation has a mass transit problem, but the cost of inserting a good system is difficult in the Sunbelt cities. Most of them are “round metropolitan areas” with suburbs spread out for miles in every direction. In Florida building a rail-line along the Atlantic Coast which is straight is much easier than figuring a rail route for a booming city like Orlando.
Houston, Phoenix, and Los Angles have extensive toll lanes along their Interstates. They may be used during rush hour, but at 10 am and 2 pm when I went past those cities, the fast for-pay lanes were almost empty. In Phoenix you could have filmed a “Fast and Furious” chase episode in them.
A New Motor World
A few years ago the City of Tampa tried to place bikes for riding downtown. Today that show is over, but Tampa has developed a serious bike culture even adding one way street to help bikers. Free downtown bike pickup and new bike trails.
Think of 100,000 of these scooters on your roadways.
Florida tends to be several years behind the Pacific Coast on trends so I was curious to see how young people go around the traffic clogged Los Angles streets. In Culver City it was cheap digitally rented motorized scooters. The scooters were everywhere. People in business suits in scooters. Barefoot school kids. Scooters scooters. And you think seeing a motorcycle behind you is difficult! The city rounds them up by their GPS at night.
Expect the scooters to reach Florida around 2020. Anyway, I’m glad to be back in the Sunshine State and ready for some new travel ideas.