Why New York gets star billing on I-95 North signs

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

December 20, 1993

Does Maryland love New York?

Take a gander at the traffic signs along Interstate 95. They might give you that idea.

The majority (aside from exit signs) only inform motorists that the highway they're traveling leads to the Big Apple.

Attentive reader Jerry Marciniak called this to our attention. In a very amusing letter, he rises to the defense of those "other" cities like Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia; and Trenton, N.J., that lie between here and New York.

"Is it possible that someone in the State Highway Administration may have a grudge against these cities?" he writes. "Perhaps Wilmington and Trenton are fairly small cities, but Philadelphia has several million people.

"Is it the glitz and the glamour? I certainly don't think of New York as glamorous. I try to avoid it.

"However, if it is the glitz and the glamour, perhaps we could change the signs going south on I-95. Instead of 'I-95 South -- Washington,' why not 'I-95 South -- Miami Beach?'"

Touche, Jerry.

We forwarded Mr. Marciniak's concerns to the SHA as well as to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which share jurisdiction over the I-95 signs. They say there's a logical reason why Maryland is Broadway bound.

Under Federal Highway Administration guidelines, the major destinations listed on interstate signs are chosen based on recommendations of an organization called AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The D.C.-based group publishes a list of "control cities" in order to standardize signs.

Let's face it, you wouldn't want to be told you were on the highway to Trenton while traveling in Maryland, only to be told you were on the road to Greenwich, Conn., when you reached Pennsylvania.

A survey of northbound I-95 signs from the Capital Beltway to the Delaware state line indicates New York is not the only city listed as a destination.

If you count mileage indicators, six signs refer to Philadelphia, one to Wilmington and four to the New Jersey Turnpike. (Talk about glamorous!)

But New York is the overwhelming leader, appearing on every sign.

Chuck Brown, an SHA spokesman, said the overriding concern of traffic gurus is simply to be consistent and not change the destination from sign to sign. Plus, more interstate motorists are headed to New York than to Philadelphia -- at least that's the SHA's guess.

"One area had to be picked, and New York is a big traffic generator," Mr. Brown said. "You can't sign for every destination."

Mr. Brown denies any suggestion of bias in the matter. Nor does Maryland get any payment from New York for all the free advertising. There's even a benefit to be considered. Think of driving the road to New York as an opportunity to demonstrate commuting prowess. After all, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere . . .

When potholes and budgets collide

Got a spare quarter to fix a pothole?

Intrepid Commuter recently heard from a reader frustrated with the condition of South Baltimore's Pennington Avenue between Patapsco Avenue and Ordnance Road. Weather and wear have turned it into an obstacle course.

Officials at Baltimore's Public Works Department agree it's a problem. Pennington Avenue has been listed as a candidate for resurfacing on the city's long-range capital improvement program for the last two years.

But don't expect any action soon. The city doesn't have the estimated $1 million necessary to do the job.

"Other roads are either in worse condition or have higher traffic volume or a combination of both and take priority over Pennington," said Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the department.

Ms. Pyatt said city work crews will be applying some temporary patches in the next two weeks. That should help a bit.

Sadly, there are no plans for a more permanent repair -- at least not until the city government hits the lottery.

*

Ever seen someone apply makeup while driving?

Casually read the newspaper while weaving through traffic at 65 mph?

Eat cereal and parallel park at the same time?

Intrepid Commuter is asking for your best stories of outrageous inattentiveness on the road.

We're compiling a collection of stupid driving tricks. The more moronic the better (but since you read this column, we bet you knew that already).

As always, we prefer letters. But if you have a hankering to use the phone, call us on Sundial and briefly summarize your tale. Leave your number, and if we need to hear more, we'll give you a call.

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