I-270 and I have a mutual dislike

by Virgil Soule. 0 Comments


I-270 and I have been acquainted for 34 years. It’s not that we’re buddy-buddy pals or in a love-hate kind of thing. It’s more like mutual dislike.    We get along well enough for me to get where I’m going in one piece and in something approximating a timely fashion. I-270 leaves me alone and I try not to damage it.   All told, I’ve been driving for 56 years. I grew up in North Dakota, where lightly-traveled country roads provided plenty of room for honing driving skills. Cousins of mine were farm kids. They were driving trucks and tractors and helping with farm work when they were twelve or thirteen. I had to wait until the legal age. I was jealous and yearned to be in their shoes. They were sick of it all by age 16.   My first car was a 1937 Ford. It was a nice little two-door with a flat-head V-8. Only problem was that it had mechanical brakes (today’s cars have hydraulic brakes) and didn’t stop very quickly in traffic. My brother, Irvin, had a 1926 Model T. It likewise had mechanical brakes but he had a technique for stopping it: At a critical point coming up on a stop sign or traffic light, he would reach down and haul back on the hand brake lever. The thing would shudder to a stop right where he wanted it to stop. As for the Ford, Dad drove it, decided it was a threat to life and limb, and sold it.   My second car was a ‘37 Plymouth. I enjoyed driving that car and pretty well wore it out. It got so I could run up and down through the gears without ever using the clutch – just by revving the engine a little so the synchromesh in the transmission would allow it to pop into gear.   The car I liked best was the VW Squareback I bought new in 1967. It had a good strong engine that would run seventy five all day long with nary a complaint. We were tent campers then. I would load our camping gear on a rack on top, put us in the front seats, cram three kids in back, and the thing would get better gas mileage than when unloaded. Apparently the camping gear on top improved the aerodynamics of the vehicle.   Today, I’m a retired Aeronautical Engineer with interests in science, religion, things that fly, automobiles, and of course, I-270.   Driving on I-270 borders on the boring. It does have its moments, however, and drivers must always be watchful. The average driver drives well enough to get from A to B. Some are good and some are down right stupid. To drive I-270, one must be prepared to cope with the entire spectrum.   I-270 is a very small part of a modern marvel – the Interstate Highway System – begun during the Eisenhower era. When discussing I-270, we must naturally include the Capitol Beltway at the bottom end and I-70 and U.S. 15 at the top end. These highways are all interdependent. A mess on I-270 backs up onto the Beltway and vice versa. Traffic volume on I-270 has outgrown the highway’s original design and congestion is a daily problem. The solution proposed by the Maryland Dept. Of Transportation is to add four Express Toll Lanes to the four free lanes already there. My own engineering estimates indicate that the ETL design won’t solve the congestion problem in the near term and certainly not twenty years hence. Moreover, the pittance in toll revenue garnered by the ETLs won’t begin to cover their original cost.   To be able to complain about I-270, one must have had some experience with other available modes. I’ve ridden Metrobus and Metrorail during rush hours and off-hours, early morning and late at night. Buses and trains are crowded during peak hours but overall, service is good. I’ve also ridden Amtrak. We took Amtrak’s Auto Train to Florida one summer – one of their better ideas actually.   I’ve sat in airline seats for many, many hours. Personally, I think complaints about airline service are misplaced and unreasonable. No other transportation mode will get a passenger from one coast to the other in six hours. It is still possible to ride the train to the West Coast, of course. Amtrak will get you from DC to San Francisco in an easy three days, with a change of trains in Chicago. Maintain your perspective; quit complaining folks.   It’s a little off-subject but I’ve never understood why Metrorail and Amtrak can’t be run at least at cost. They have monopolies on service; they can charge whatever they want. As long as the Congress continues debasing the Dollar, inflation is going to continue and prices are going to go up. The Congress should understand this.   When it comes to I-270 and driving in general, I think we have a lot to discuss.   Non sequitur: I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Obama.”

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