Monday, November 30, 2009

49-71-168

That's I-49, US 71 and LA 168 ;)

That trip to Texas & Louisiana I took recently? It gave me an opportunity to check on the progress of I-49 north of Shreveport. It's coming along, but won't be done any time soon. Between Hosston and Mira, there are few signs of progress. Here, it will cross under US 71:


A couple miles north and west it will cross over Mira-Myrtis Rd


Another couple miles, it will pass under LA 168


I have one little problem with 168: the surrounding area has flooding problems, as witnessed by nearby signage (which I forgot to photograph). If I-49 is passing on ground level, what's to keep it from flooding? I can only hope Louisiana's DOTD has taken this into consideration and is planning some major drainage improvements. Let's come back in 5 or 10 years and see if there's a flooding problem, shall we?

Now, as far as construction on I-49 in Arkansas: yes, there is some. But it's nowhere near this level of completion. But then, they only have maybe 5 miles of work? Louisiana has much, much more.


One More: for the Gas Fans

I found this in Port Arthur, Texas: it's (I believe) an 1950's era Texaco station. 

Port Arthur Texaco I

It's definitely seen better days, but could probably be rescued by someone with some time on their hands and a lot of of cash. 

A Quickie

Bliss Motel

Just a quick drive-by post before I head off to work on some projects: I found this old sign on US 79 & 80 in Shreveport last week.  The motel is long gone and the other side of the sign has been painted over, but it's little things like this make taking the back roads more interesting.

Please Explain

Please explain to me why a major "bargain" motel chain has ashtrays in their non-smoking rooms? I don't care that there's a No Smoking logo on the bottom... why have ashtrays at all?
 
Well, I've been given 2 answers: #1 "Corporate Policy"  #2 "Talk to the Franchisee".
So, does this mean neither side knows what the other is thinking or doing? I can't say I'm totally surprised: based on my experiences, many hotel companies seem interested in little more than collecting their franchise fees and commissions. 

Something else, as well: why does your friendly neighborhood "no frills" bargain chain have custom bedspreads with their name plastered all over them? If they are truly "no frills" why do the bars of soap have the motel's logo molded into them? 

Now, maybe I'm just cynical, but I truly wonder if Tom Bodett has ever stayed at a Motel 6?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

59 is the New 36

Last roadtrip of the year. This time to southern Texas with a detour through Louisiana to explore US 171 (gotta check on the kids, y'know ;) )

As many of you will remember from previous blogs, I have a tendency toward staying at "budget" motels, oft times older independents. It's a mixed bag, yes, but I just can't see spending $60 at some name brand motel whose version of "free breakfast" is a doughnut, a cup of coffee and maybe a bowl of cereal. Better, in my opinion, to spend $40 on a motel and have a good breakfast at Waffle House.

Well, I got as far as Shreveport on my way home and decided to stop for the night. Silly me, I didn't check in advance to see where most of the motels were, so I decided to wing it. I found a Motel 6 out on the west edge of town for around $35, but the only food was a 24 Hour truck stop, so I kept looking. Then I found this place: Regency Inn Hotel

I thought $36 was a good price so I stopped. Everything looked OK from the outside: everything was clean, there were no vagrants in the parking lot, the lot was probably around half full. I walked inside to very nice, clean lobby.  So I walked up to the desk and asked for a room. Suddenly, the $36 rate became $59. I asked the clerk about the sign and got a rude comment about not having any of those rooms available. Really? Do they EVER have any $36 rooms? So, I left, but not before telling the clerk I suspected "Bait and Switch"  {bait you with a low rate, then switch you to a higher one}. 

By that time, I was tired and didn't want to fuss around with searching for another hotel. Luckily, I found a Super 8 just up the road a few blocks. The price? $53 with AAA. Still a bit more than I would like to have spent, but OK. Other than being upstairs (with NO elevator), it wasn't bad. They even had waffles for breakfast (something that's becoming more popular, but isn't always seen). And I got reward points, which I can use for a free night eventually. I just have to stay, what, 9 more times?

I wonder how long Regency Inn will continue advertising $36 and charging $59 before someone files a formal complaint?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me



No, not me. My namesake: Us 71. Today is the 83rd anniversary of the creation of the US Highway System. Designed as a replacement for the Auto Trails, it was devised, in part, to create a uniform system of roads across the country
.
The Jefferson Trail became US 71, US 40 replaced the National Road and the Lincoln Highway became US 30.

Since then, numerous highways were replaced by the coming of the Interstate Highway System, such as US 66 by I-55, I-44 and I-40, and US 99 by I-5
, but much of the system still exists today. So take some time to explore and imagine what it must have been like 83 years ago.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Abandoned Classic

I get to Memphis maybe 2 or 3 times a year anymore. Usually, I'm just passing through or headed for a specific place in town. Last March, I took an opportunity to drive through on US 61 just to see what there was to see. 

When you get north of I-55, the area starts to look really run down and neglected. You'll occasionally pass a convenience store or grocery, maybe even a McDonald's or Walgreens.  One thing that caught my attention was this abandoned gas stationAbandoned in Memphis

Looks like it was a car wash in it's most recent incarnation, but what was it before that? OK, it was a gas station... that much is obvious. But what kind? They don't build them like this anymore...most are just a plain box with flashy lighting sitting on a street corner. So what kind of station was this? A few people on the Oil History list believe it may have been a Billups ("Fill-up with Billups"), but I wasn't able to find specific identifying marks (but then, I was nervous about stopping here for more than 5 minutes).

Anyone remember? Anyone know for sure? 

Monday, November 09, 2009

R.I.P. Amite River Bridge

As many of you know, one of my main hobbies is photography. Sure, I take a lot of photos of odd signage, old traffic signals and so on, but one of my strongest pursuits is bridges. I had a friend do a 2 bit psychoanalysis on me once and claimed this passion comes from my ability to "build bridges" between people.  Personally, I don't see it.

I've photographed hundreds of bridges in the last 7 or 8 years (when I got serious about this hobby). Some I have found through research, others by happenstance.  One bridge that caught my attention was the Amite River bridge on US 190 near Denham Springs, LA, a 1932 Parker Through Truss bridge. I first encountered this bridge in 2007 on my way home from an SCA gathering in Mississippi. Even then, it was looking old and tired, but it had a certain charm to it that I can't explain. Even then, there were signs of its impending doom due to upgrades along the highway. I only managed to get one photograph that day as the sun was preparing to set.  This past March, I managed to get several more photos and promised myself I'd come back next year for more photos and to say my good-byes.

Amite River-East Portal 

Well, I won't get that chance: the bridge was imploded October 22nd to make way for a new bridge. There's a video on YouTube, if you're morbid enough to watch it. I've posted the link, but I refuse to post the video: I'd rather remember the bridge as it was last March then what it became in October.  

The Coming of I-49

One of the projects included in the ARRA was construction along several small segments of future Interstate 49. Missouri has at least 3 projects in progress north of Carthage (at MO 126, Secondary Route DD and Secondary Route V), but I'll have more on those another time.  In Arkansas, the only work I know of is east of Fort Smith along AR 22 near AR 59.

I-49 will actually cut through part of Fort Chaffee, crossing AR 22 just to the west. 

Where's the Bridge? This small segment was built along Fort Smith Blvd at Chaffee Crossing last year. Since then, work has started on expanding this part of the roadway.

 These bridge piers will form part of an interchange at AR 22, while this area awaits construction.

 

And here we have what appears to be a future ramp 

Since these photos were taken back in August, more bridge piers have been constructed south of AR 22, almost up to the roadway itself.  On the north side of the future interchange, not a lot has changed... or at least nothing that is visible from the road. I have seen several construction trucks traveling in and out of the area, so I'll have to sneak up there some weekend and get a better look at the progress.


Finally Finished

(I have a little extra time today so I'm trying to get a few things caught up)

For those following the saga of US 71 north of Mountainburg, the highway has finally been repaired and reopened. For those who have not been following, or have forgotten, a brief recap:

Spring rains caused a partial washout of US 71 approximately 5 miles north of Mountainburg. In May, AHTD let to bid a contract to repair the slide damage. The road remained open to one lane of traffic until mid-June, when it was discovered the slide damage was worse that anticipated, which necessitated a complete closure of the roadway.


The road reopened to one lane of traffic in mid-July while work continued on rebuilding the roadway, including raising the height of the northbound lanes to allow for better drainage.


In early August, repairs were completed and the road finally reopened to full traffic


So this section of US 71 is good to go for many more years of service. BUT there are potential problems along numerous other sections of 71 from just south of Mountainburg to near Winslow. This is an old roadway, predating the US highway system by a number of years. Just because I-540 is nearby and carries the bulk of traffic up and down the mountain, there is no excuse to neglect this or any other road in the area.


Only in South Dakota

Only in South Dakota, or at least in Mitchell: light pole bases with corn designs.

 

But then, Mitchell is home of the Corn Palace

 

Even the street signs are corny

As well as the palace itself:


 

First in the Nation

This past July, Missouri debuted the first Diverging Diamond Interchange in the U.S. at Interstate 44 and MO 13 in Springfield. 

In brief, the Diverging Diamond temporarily shifts traffic into the opposite lanes so that left turns have no opposing traffic to cross. In this instance, the Northbound lanes of MO 13 cross into the Southbound lanes while the Southbound lanes cross into the Northbound lanes. This diagram should help explain:


The lanes themselves are separated by a Jersey Barrier and the crosspoints are signalized.


Simple enough, right? Well, not quite. MoDOT reports that once people become accustomed to this type of interchange, it works fine. However, the local TV stations reported at least one motorist going the wrong direction within a hour of the interchange opening to traffic. Fortunately, there was no report of a collision with other motorists.

Overall, MoDOT seems happy with the Diverging Diamond and has begun work on another at James River Freeway (US 60) and National Ave in Springfield. This one, however, will entail building extra lanes along US 60 between National and Campbell (US 160) and construction of an underpass to improve connection to the nearby Cox Hospital and provide easier access between CoxHealth facilities located on both sides of National Ave just north of US 60. 

Eventually, more Diverging Diamonds will be constructed, including along I-435 in Kansas City and US 65 in Springfield.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

What a Waste

OK, you've probably all heard of the ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The federal government was going to spend over $700 Billion to help the economy recover from the Recession.  Of that money, $27 Billion was to go for bridge and highway projects, including improvements to or replacement of deficient bridges.  

According to deficientbridge.com, there are over 72,000 structurally deficient bridges in the US and nearly 79,000 functionally obsolete.  So, one would expect a large chunk of money to go for replacing bridges, right? WRONG! 

Missouri, to their credit, is replacing several bridges with ARRA funds as well upgrading US 71 between Carthage and Kansas City. MO 126, for example, is being upgraded to a full interchange in preparation for 71 eventually becoming Interstate 49. 

Arkansas? Well, some work is being done along future I-49 east of Fort Smith, but a lot of it is being wasted.  Back in May, I noticed US 71 being resurfaced in the vicinity of Needmore, as well as around Mena. Neither one of the stretches of highway was in any desperate need of repairs, yet AHTD spent ARRA funds to repave them anyway. Were there no bridges to repair or replace? Or was it simply easier to do these projects and claim you're using the government's money? Now, I for one hate to see the old bridges disappear, but if the government gives you money to replace or repair them, whay are you repaving roads that don't need it?

And one other thing: those ARRA signs you see along the roadside? They cost anywhere from $900 to $7000 each and are considered part of the bid.

 ARRA Project

Fix the bridges, fix the roads, but quit wasting money on extravagant signage or roads that don't need work.

November?

November, already?  I've got a lot of catching up to do. I've been on the road so much, I haven't much time to keep things updated. Maybe I'll have to spring for a laptop so I can blog from the road.

So, where have I been? Everywhere and nowhere. One weekend I'm in Missouri, the next I'm in Mississippi (where I found another hanging 4-Way Stop along US 51 in Durant)


A couple weeks later, I found myself in South Dakota visiting Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park. Including this tunnel along US 16A

 

and this wooden arch bridge at US 16/16A

and a Palindrome along US 81:


I also briefly set foot in Minnesota where I crossed the West Fork of Des Moines River along US 71 at Sterling

 then made my way into Iowa where I found numerous bridges



Plus some old traffic signals in Clarinda  and a tribute to a native son


In other news: US 71 has finally reopened north of Mountainburg, sign upgrades continue along Interstate 40 and work continues along Future Interstate 49. More details on this later. I am hoping to get to the point where I am blogging 2-3 times a week, including how the ARRA is being wasted on perfectly good roads.