What Are the Best Stretches of Interstate in America?
Something Californian, perhaps? Not so, it seems, as the editors of The Drive sound off about their favorite interstates.
People who consider themselves "real drivers" are told that the Interstates are to be shunned in favor of backroads. "The Slab," as the Interstate is referred to, is too boring, too flat, too straight, too filled with trucks and grandmothers to be of an interest to a driving enthusiast. The driving enthusiast is supposed to be out on the backroads, where a tree canopy shades an endless two-lane stretch of mountain vistas, challenging curves, streams, rivers and reservoirs, and tippy-top asphalt the whole way.
In reality, the back roads can often be in bad shape, boring and slow, the August sun overheating that rumbling school bus in front of you. So let's revisit the Interstates for a second. A good Interstate can be fast, and sometimes really fast. A good Interstate can be clear, it can have good pavement, it can great views, and it can get you from A to B lickety-split.
On the other hand, there's Interstate 95.
I-95, in the northeast anyway, doesn't have a good mile on it. From Boston to DC, it's nothing but the best intentions executed in the worst way. The slog from Boston to New York is a mess of too many cars, too many cops, and not enough capacity. Allow 5-7 hours for this 215 mile drive. In July, add another 30 percent. In New York City, I-95 is a spaghetti bowl of ramps and switchbacks with some of the worst pavement in America.
Then right out of New York City, I-95 becomes the New Jersey Turnpike, a slab of road that lives up fully to expectations. Expensive, crowded, poorly paved and littered with surly State Troopers, the Turnpike stinks. You breeze by Philly, get into Delaware and their 5-mile stretch of I-95 is set up for max profits: a huge-by-large mega rest stop, immediately followed by the most aggressive speed trap imaginable. Well, imagine 10 or so State Troopers all lined up at 33-degree angles pointing into the roadway from the berm, all with multiple radar and laser guns pointed at you. After emergency-braking through that, imagine the next half mile rubbernecking through another 10 State Troopers on the road, the median and the berm, in pursuit, pulled over, and everywhere in between, light flashing and chests puffed out. The State of Delaware will get your money, one way or the other.
Passing into Maryland, you get a view into downtown Baltimore from the clogged, elevated stretch of I-95 passing through, then into the Harbor Tunnel and another hour of traffic and you're on the DC Beltway, truly one of the most terrifying loops in the nation. As they say, "backslash-rant," and now let's get to the topic at hand: Our favorite Interstates.
I-95, from Portland, Maine, to Canada
Of course associate editor Max Goldberg feels differently of about I-95—at least a certain portion of it that is north of Boston, a stretch running from Portland, Maine to the Canadian border. There, the summer air cools, the road slims to two lanes, the sights become beautiful, the road becomes dippy and interesting and there's no traffic to speak of. Miles pass by fast compared to the rest of I-95 and dinner is served in Woodstock, Ontario (Canada, eh), probably at the Finkle Street Tap & Grill or the Charles Dickens Pub (open mic jam, every Saturday).
I-10, from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida
Meanwhile, staff editor Aaron Brown has a thing for Interstate 10, a jaunty little dash from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, by way of Phoenix, Houston, and Mobile, Alabama. The whole thing is 2,400 miles long, but you just need to focus on the run from Phoenix to El Paso, a fast (very fast) piece of road with decent desert views, a flat and straight all-out driving experience, and a nice I-Hop waiting for you in El Paso. Or the more upscale fare at Anson11 or the L&J Cafe for some great authentic Mexican eats.
I-94, through North Dakota
Editor Mike Guy favors Interstate 94, which takes one from Billings, Montana to motor city, Detroit, Michigan. But specifically, he points to the stretch dashing across North Dakota from the western town of Beach, ND to the east-most town of Fargo, ND. This 350-mile straight line run is what Mr. Guy describes as "a 5-hour driving meditation." There's no sights, the road is flat and straight, you can go pretty fast, and there's no views at all, not even of Mt. Rushmore in neighboring state South Dakota. One thing I will point out that this road must have been pretty easy on the engineers who designed and built it. There's no terrain, and yes, it proves the fastest way to get to one point from another is a straight line.
I-78, somewhere in Pennsylvania
Lawrence Ulrich phoned it in (let's face it, he's busy) by naming a pretty lame stretch of Interstate 78 on the eastern side of Pennsylvania near Kutztown or Krumsville, but frankly, having driven that road numerous times, I can tell you it's not much to write home, or here, about. Still, if you find yourself out there, look for the Benjamin Moore paint can (or is that on I-81?).
I-99, to the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Me, my favorite is the southern segment of Interstate 99, a fast, scenic, rolling, view-rich run from Bellefonte, PA to Bedford, Pa. Basically, it's a north-south connecting run between the east-west country-crossing Interstate 80 and Interstate 76, a.k.a the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It's lovely, with long sweeping turns and stunning views of valleys and mountaintops, and passes through no big cities at all. There's an almost complete absence of billboards ruining the view, and there's plenty of Sheetz along the way for coffee and snacks. In this neck of the woods, you can go north-south on Interstate 81, which is a major drag (who wouldn't love the stop-and-go rush hour traffic of Harrisburg, PA?), or you can breeze along on lovely I-99, enjoying your life and clicking the miles off.
Frankly, I'm surprised nobody came up with anything Californian or Washingtonian, but that's the way it went. North Dakota's I-94 is interesting to do once in a lifetime, and so is Interstate 10, although I wouldn't do it in the summer. As Mr. Brown did note, "this road would be a terrible place to die." Try I-99 if you can, perfect for the fall.
It wouldn't be fair to do this without soliciting the views and opinions of The Drive's valued readership, so now I'll invite you to sound off in the comments below. What's your favorite Interstate?
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