I-59 Road Trip, part 1 (AL, GA, TN)

June 18, 2009

My dad taught me that Tennessee, like any other state without any coastline on the Gulf, was not to be trusted. Parts of the state were extremely far north, abutting known Border States that themselves shared borders with states in The North. The music there was a sugary sort of blues-lite, with too many songs in a major key. And, as was demonstrated on many a Saturday morning, Tennessee sports fans were hopeless douchebags.

I tell you all this so that, as I try to keep a level head during this travelogue, some anti-TN bias I grew up with might show through. The irony that my home city has separate interstate connections (counting I-22) to the three largest TN cities is not lost on me.

Gadsden is the first city after Birmingham on I-59, and it suffers from an inferiority complex, just like Tacoma, or St. Paul, or Ft. Worth, or Camden, N. J. Still, it’s worth a stop. I like Gadsden.

I-59 is an easy six-lane drive through here, with no predators in Fennicup swamp to attack you anymore, and you’ve only been on the road an hour. Still, we always stop here, no matter what time of day, and eat at Pork Pullers on Meighan Boulevard. It’s a strip club with the best Boston pork butts for miles and miles around. Stripper butts and pork butts. And cigarette butts, if you smoke. I get it po’ boy style, grilled garlic bun, medium sauce, and a Hurricane Ale. Awesome. Even at 9:30 am.

Just past Sulphur Springs is the Georgia State line inspection station. It adds about 15 minutes to your trip. You have to declare any banjos you’re taking inside, and answer a few other questions. But they’re nothing if not mannerly: at the end, you get an 8-0z icy peach smoothie. You’re saying, yeah, we get it Georgia, you got peaches, but damn the fresh ones taste good.

After the state line is a big blue sign reading “Georgia. Welcome to our beautiful state. Signed, President Mikhail Saakashvili.” I always chuckle at that.

I-59 merges with I-24 (signed as I-24 only) going into Tennessee. You only cut a small corner of Georgia. The trip to Chattanooga is very scenic, but if you’re driving, you’ll miss a lot of it. A healthy sense of self-preservation will keep your focus on the road ahead. I-59/24 is two lanes in this area.

You'll want to keep your eyes on the road: I-59/24 in Tennessee has some thousand-foot dropoffs.

You'll want to keep your eyes on the road: I-59/24 in Tennessee has some thousand-foot dropoffs.

After Chattanooga, I-59 picks up with I-75 after I-24 ends. There’s a funny thing you notice about the town names as you go by, especially along US 11: Cleveland. Charleston. Athens. Philadelphia. Jefferson City.

All named after faraway places.

Why? People in Tennessee hate living there.

Knoxville had a World’s Fair in 1982, decades and decades after they stopped being cool. There’s also Fort Knox, which they keep guarded because they don’t want anyone to know that all the gold was sold off years ago.

In Johnson City, you pass I-26. Soon, the Volunteer State will have I-22, I-24, and I-26. Then I-59 merges with I-81, where it will stay until they both (but signed only as I-81) reach the Canadian Border.

We’ll enter Virginia in a future post.


Congratulations Pens

June 15, 2009

Since Birmingham is the Pittsburgh of the South, I’ve often halfheartedly rooted for the Penguins of the Pittsburgh of the North. Congrats to them for winning 4 out of the last 5 to unseat Detroit. If you didn’t think that was a done deal after game 2, you’re lying.

Expect sports fans in the Burgh to be insufferable for a while, considering the Stillers are defending NFL champs, and they have Carnegie-Mellon, and I-376 was recently extended, and the city was rated #1 most livable in the US a while back.

Now I realize I have an accent, because I don’t sound like the Midwesterners and Californians that are allowed on TV. A bit of a Southern accent, some might say. But I’ve been to Pittsburgh, and the Iron City has a bit of a twang, too. It’s like the Midwest and the South start in that city, linguistically. If a trip there is in your future, check out pittsburghese.com where many of their unique idioms (“gum band”, “needs fixed”) are deciphered.

As for the Lakers: I’m not a Laker fan at all, and I guess I’m not an NBA fan either, since I was nonetheless rooting for the Lakers to sweep, for a quicker end. At long last, that death march of a season is finally over.


June 13, 2009

Sorry; the entry here has been removed and adapted elsewhere.

Alabama Highway Resources

June 12, 2009

This one’s a simple post: a list of the best online resources for the highways of America’s #1 state (in the alphabet):

State Highways – Wikipedia

Dan’s Highway Pages – all routes

Alabama Highways – Chris Lawrence

Alabama Routes – Froggie (originally Dave Sturm)

Alabama State Highway Ends – also Froggie

Alabama State Highways – aaroads (lots of photos; very good)

Alabama US and Interstate Highways – aaroads (again, lots of good stuff)

Northwest AL Highways – Josh Spears

AL Road History – Joe Gillis

Alabama @ wwtl.com – 71 photos, 8 videos, and two WHL-360’s

Alabama Maps – U of A. Hundreds of historical maps, aerial photos, etc. Awesome.

AL state legislation lookup – for historical research

Thanks to everyone involved in the sites above. I hope this blog will someday be nearly as helpful.

You know who else wasn’t liked?

June 11, 2009

Vientology is blowing up on misc.transport.road!

Jason Pawloski: I keep seeing the word “viatology” on this newsgroup but I never see a definition, and I’m curious to learn more about it. Does anyone have a rigorous definition of what viatology is and perhaps link for me a website with more information? Thanks.

“outend”: Complete list of Calrogs’ useful contributions on the topic of roads worldwide: This page intentionally left blank.

I’m normally not going to get involved in the “MTR” reality show; one reason I lurk there, but don’t post. But the fact that a guy is annoying is no reason to deny his rightful accomplishments.

Yes, Carl Rogers can be abrasive sometimes; and vain, pompous, hardheaded and sockpuppety (another word, like vientology, that spell checkers have not caught up with).

But think about it. They jeered Nikola Tesla. They vilified Henry Ford. They crucified Jesus.

Put personality differences aside, and there is an undeniable pattern of pioneering vientology work from Mr. Rogers. Let’s take a look:


This is the 360-degree virtual reality presentation of a stretch of highway. All 5 senses are telling you you’re on the road, while your inner ear says you’re sitting on the couch. It is so immersive that people with delicate stomachs have felt nauseous while looking at Carl Rogers’ WHL-360s.

A site visitor is captivated by a WHL-360 at wwtl.com

A site visitor is captivated by a WHL-360 at wwtl.com

Operation Coordinates

Don't be a website WallyI hate looking at a photo and not knowing exactly where it is. But at wwtl.com, Not only are the photos placed in context, but Carl Rogers gave us all daily progress reports. That’s the kind of employee you want to have reporting to you. Not the guy who hides in his cube and give you no updates until it’s done (or the deadline passes).

Operation Emboss

It’s a widespread problem: you go to all the trouble of taking the photo (or having someone email it to you), and then someone else hotlinks it, stealing your bandwidth and your Alexa ranking. What do you do?

Most people have Apache serve up something else:

RewriteCond    %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://wwtl\.com [NC]
RewriteRule    \.(gif|jpe?g|png)$ penis.jpg [F,NC,L]

A better way is to emboss photos with a watermark, wwtl.com-style. Start off with your original photo, which someone may be tempted to hotlink:

Unembossed photo, New Jersey

Unembossed photo, New Jersey

By adding a subtle watermark, you can enhance your branding and discourage someone from trying to take credit for your work:

Embossed photo, New Jersey

Embossed photo, New Jersey

Green Viatology

Sometimes the best roadtrip is the one not taken. Actually, I don’t agree with this one so much, and this innovation is the one that reminds you the most that Carl Rogers lives in California. Still, he came up with the idea.

Other Languages

¿Quiere leer sobre rutos en los otros lenguas? Con Carlos, ¡usted es en el suerte!


This is where you can get wwtl.com updates before anyone in the general public. It’s very exclusive. To sign up for RSS, you just need to click a button on your browser. It’s open to the general public.

Aiming high

In many ways, wwtl.com is said to surpass Google Maps.

Ironically, created with Google Charts API

Ironically, created with Google Charts API

‘S’ roads

These are roads that have curves in them. Carl Rogers coined the term.

Dragging and resizing photos

I always want to do this, especially in porn sites, and almost no site lets me.

Web 2.0

Wwtl.com is at the forefront of Web 2.0.

Operation Animation

This early innovation made analog hyperlinks change color when you hovered over them.

green v.
other languages
better than google (/maps)
virtual coordinates
S roads
drag and resize photos
web 2.0
operation animation color coding analog hyperlinks

I’ll step off my soapbox now. If you take an honest, unbiased look, the facts speak for themselves. wwtl.com is a pioneer in vientology.

Rockin’ Down the Highway

June 10, 2009
Cover of a Time-Life compilation CD

Cover of a Time-Life compilation CD

“On this moonlit night out on U.S 82
I hear that train is just a callin’ out
The way a little girl like to do”

– Georgia Satellites, “Railroad Steel”

“We’ve fought and died for our fellow man
It’s time to draw the line;
We’re not allowed in the far left lane of I-459;
So now you see the light;
Stand up for your rights.”

– Bob Marley, “Get Up, Stand Up”

I like music, and I like roads; so it’s no surprise I’m a fan of songs that mention roads. Here in the South, roads are the threads that tie us together. No surprise that Time-Life books chose a highway motif for the album cover of a compilation of Southern rock songs. (First track is, naturally, “Sweet Home Alabama.”)

My favorite Southern rock band? Not Skynyrd, or even Alabama; but the Dixie Dregs with Steve Morse. You’ve all probably heard exactly one song by them: Take it off the Top. Kind of like Clapton, Skynyrd, Jeff Beck and Yes rolled into one. Little Feat’s Texas Twister comes close, but that’s one song.

I saw them at Cooley’s in downtown Birmingham in 1981, before that club moved to Rocky Ridge (yes, I know this makes me an old fart.) That show was freaking awesome.

Back on topic, the Dregs have no songs about roads, though. There is a definitive list of road songs online, and believe it or not, it’s at the FHWA site.

Can you spell “roadgee[c]k” without “rock”? I suppose so; but why would you want to?

Jacob J. Tyson remembered

June 9, 2009

Mayor Larry Langford announced today that the Northern Beltline will be given the honorary name “Jacob J. Tyson Memorial Highway.” I think that’s a good choice. Those of you not from around here won’t know who he is, and I’ll try to fix that.

Some basic facts are on his Wikipedia page – born 1942, died 2008. Decorated Army officer in Vietnam. His father Paul was the 2nd black officer to join the Montgomery police force. Tyson got his civil engineering degree in Tuscaloosa, then joined ALDOT in the Birmingham office. Did drafting, soil work and drainage for a segment of I-459, and also for the I-20 interchange at Travis Road. Vietnam flared up, he was drafted, served four years, and came back in one piece, decorated, as a staff sergeant in the Army. He went back to ALDOT and retired there in 2001.

I know a guy who knew Mr. Tyson, and has an interesting anecdote. Jerry Berklund, now retired, was a motorcycle officer back in 1969, when Tyson was on leave and visiting family over Christmas. Berklund pulled Tyson over on I-459 for driving in the far left lane (which was prohibited at the time).

“‘This isn’t right,’ he told me,” Berklund says. “‘I helped build this road.’ And, you know, now it’s obvious that was a bad law. But it was the law, and I had to pull him over. But we had some discretion, even back in the day, and Jake was in the service. So I gave him a verbal warning and sent him on his way.”

Tyson and Berklund met again in 1977, at a charity golf event at Garnet Hills. “Of course I remembered him,” says Berklund. “Stand-up guy, smart guy, you could just tell.” They became acquaintances, then good friends. Tyson’s generosity was well-known across the city. He passed away due to heart failure in summer 2008. Hundreds attended the memorial.

I think it’s pretty cool to have a new highway honor someone who was 1) a great person, and 2) involved in the road business. People like Mr. Tyson are what vientology is all about.

Vientology = research

June 8, 2009

If vientology is a science, then a real vientologist adds value to the discussion, with new information and real insights.

If the Internet is just a closed system, with everyone copying each other’s work, then it would be like the Earth with no Sun, no external energy source. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that everything would eventually become the same temperature (“heat death”) and that would be the end of it. (Same thing will happen to our universe.)

So for vientology to grow, that means people have to step away from their computer, find out new facts, and then type them in.

For me, the vientological mecca is the Hubert Kamms Map Library at UAB, with general reference down the hall, and government documents right next door. This is like Hooters with maps (and without waitresses or beer). Seriously, I could hang out a long time here.

Highway Inventory Logs are indispensable to vientology. These show the exact locations and lengths of Alabama highways. The only sticking point is that most of these are hardcopy only, and don’t circulate. Here’s a scan from the I-459 page:

Here's a scan from the I-459 page of the Highway Inventory Log, 1969

And you can pull out old maps dating back to the 1920s:

Birmingham map, 1929. US 78 was still a dirt road

Birmingham map, 1929. US 78 was still a dirt road

Those two together, and your laptop with Google Earth, and my friend you are in highway heaven.

I’ll be going back there and digging up more info (especially about I-220 in the north end) and I’ll have some photos as well.

Carl Rogers (wwtl.com) got 60,000 hits in May (I’m pretty sure; he posted when he was close, but didn’t post the final numbers). That’s pretty impressive. I’d like to get to that point, but I know it will take time. WordPress has some stats for this site, but the numbers are low since I’m just starting out.

Carl should get one of those hit-counter things that looks like an odometer. Like this:

Just a sample. I don't have this many hits

Just a sample. I don't have this many hits

That would be cool, and appropriate for a vientology site.

Northern Beltline

June 7, 2009

The Northern Beltline here in Birmingham is making some news. It has a new number, I-422, and if all goes well it’ll be completed within 6 years. One section should go under construction late this year.

Even  after most of US 11 had been converted to a freeway in 1955, and I-59/20 upgrades were planned for the city, it was well known that bypass routes were needed for thru traffic and the growing suburbs. The “Yellow Book” (thanks, Adam Froehlig) show the recommended secondary routes for Birmingham.

Urban routes, Birmingham

Urban routes, Birmingham

The southern beltline was I-59B for a short while (that was before my time) but became I-459. It was completed on Feb. 11, 1984. Total cost was $232 million. A couple interesting things about that route. First, it has two 4-level stack interchanges, at I-65 and I-20. Second, it has 3 lanes in each direction, and for the older parts (in the southwest), the fast lanes were restricted to whites only. In 1971 Congress basically said if you don’t knock it off, we’re cutting your highway funding, so the state took those signs down. Some people say carpool lanes are the same thing, and nobody complains about those. All I’m going to say is, this is not a political blog, so I won’t discuss that here.

The Northern Beltline has lagged for decades because of resistance to the name. People didn’t want to have anything to do with the North. But Rep. Shelby secured about $60M in 2001 for the route, and it has picked up momentum ever since. Getting US 78 designated as I-22 helped a lot, and calling the beltline I-422 makes sense. But the working name is Alabama 959, and I think I-959 would have been pretty cool.

You might have noticed I-220 in the Yellow Book diagram above. Information on that route has been hard to find. There are a few docs in the UAB library that have I-220 as a line item, and that’s about it.  However, I-220 is roughly in the Northern Beltine corridor, so by 2015 it probably will exist — but just as part of I-422.

I-459 in Rocky Ridge

In Rocky Ridge, the opportunities brought by I-459 have attracted dense development, creating one of Birmingham's "edge cities".

More resources:

Corridor X-1 (aaroads)

Environmentalists don’t like it

Interstate 59 History

June 5, 2009

Interstate 59

Length: 1,453 miles; from Slidell, La. to Watertown, NY

I-59 is one of our nation’s longest interstate highways, reaching from New Orleans to the Appalachian Mountains to the Canadian border. It is the only two-digit interstate with a lengthy unsigned portion; its entire multiplex with I-81 is signed as only I-81. It’s been that way since the early 1960s, and as a result, more than 30 million Americans in New York and Pennsylvania are not even aware that I-59 enters their state.

To understand I-59 is to reach back to the founding of our country.

As the 13 colonies declared independence, old restrictions from Britain on inter-colony trade were no longer in effect. Thomas Jefferson, perhaps our earliest vientologist, was acutely aware of the need for improved overland travel. Better transportation of people and goods would have an economic and strategic benefit for the new nation.

On a hot summer day in 1790, Jefferson called for Constance Fletcher, the comely 19-year-old daughter of a Virginia arrow-maker. She had the fairest skin of all the ladies at Monticello, which was ideal for the task he had in mind. He bade her disrobe, and on her bare back, with a piece of charcoal, he inscribed what would be the America’s first highway planning map: the outlines of the 13 colonies, and two lines running from south to north. Along the coast would be United States Route 1; along the Appalachians, US Route 11.

Our founding fathers were nothing if not resourceful. The route markers for the new US Routes would be the shields plentifully available on nearby battlefields (that’s why US Route signs are shaped that way today). And the numbers 1 and 11 were very easy to scrape into a shield with a buckknife. Signing these routes would be quick and economical.

Jefferson sent Fletcher to the White House, with the map still on her back, to the new Bureau of Transportation, which was at the time headquartered in the East Wing. On arrival, she presented a sealed letter that read “do with ye Girl as ye pleafe, as long af ye Map if not rubbed off.”

By the mid-1790s, US 11 was already an important trade route. Stagecoaches laden with escargot, seal furs and snow wended their way down from Quebec, and returned with cotton, crayfish and accordions. It’s safe to say that the French culture in New Orleans is entirely due to the trade with Canada over US 11 in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Throughout the early 1800s, new States were admitted, and the US highway system grew. Jefferson expanded the 1/11 system into a nationwide grid that could incorporate those numbers without change. Several routes we recognize today — 30, 50, 76, 21, 220 and others — predate the Civil War.

Wartime, however, threatened to sever not only our nation but our route numbering system. From 1862, when McClellan’s caviling prolonged the conflict, to 1865, US 11 was split at the Mason-Dixon line. Richmond renamed its part the Honorable Patriotic Magnolia Sons of the Cross Highway, and Washington renamed its part US 11N, followed by the the Real US 11, then the Penn-Adirondack Way, and finally, in November 1864, Dammit the South to Hell [sic]. Other highways were similarly given tendentious designations.

US routes 30 and 15 were created to bring President Lincoln to Gettysburg; and during the signing of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, US 11 was rejoined, and Lincoln and Lee worked out the basic locations for US routes 21, 31, 301, 50, and 60. Traffic on US 11 surged as Canadians and New Englanders once again enjoyed safe passage to New Orleans culture, cuisine, drink, and its finer pleasures. The French Quarter was established by Montrealers who, having sampled New Orleans’s copper-skinned “hospitality”, saw no reason to make the trip back north.

As most freight moved by rail in the late 19th century, the narrow roads (usually 12 to 16 feet wide, with crushed gravel and rock) were sufficient for other overland travel. At the turn of the century, calls for improved roads from a burgeoning bicycle movement were usually cheerfully ignored.

When automobiles made their entrance, everything changed. By the late 1920s people were screaming about main highways (US 11, 31, 78, 80, 90) that were virtual parking lots and needed to be four-laned right f***ing now.

The first interchange in Alabama (my home state) was an ornamental piece of pork near the Capitol Building in Montgomery, built in 1952. But the first functional, necessary interchange was the US 11/78 cloverleaf (1955) in Birmingham. It’s gone now — they tore it down to build the basket-weave at I-59/20/65 — but there are still some photos at the UAB library.

In 1956, Eisenhower signed the interstate highway bill, and maps showed a proposed route along the entire length of US 11. Route numbers, however, were not finalized until late 1957. I still think I-59 should have been given an x5 (I-85) because of its length and importance. But leave it to Congress to make sausage out of the whole thing.

On the Highway Committee were Percy “Scramp” Hollits of Tennessee, Lou Herbeck of Louisiana, and our own T. George Kepler of Alabama. Hollits’s pet amendment would have allowed (some source say “required”) the posting of the Ten Commandments wherever two primary interstate highways crossed. Herbeck sponsored a clause where commercial vehicles operated by women would have to show a special placard above the front and back license plates. And Kepler was pushing for the US 11 route, which was tending toward an I-81 designation, to be called I-85.

In a typical legislative compromise, none of the three got what they wanted, and they were promptly voted out of office in 1958. The US 11 interstate became I-59, because US 1 was I-95. However, the northern section violated a clause in US Code 23 (which was rescinded in 1970) that forbid an interstate from wandering more than 16 numbers out of place. So I-59 north of Bristol, Tenn. became I-81; the shared section with I-75 was deleted; and I-59 was cut back to I-24. Legislatively, I-59 still continues to Canada; but for simplicity, the signposting extends only to Georgia.

The first piece of I-59 constructed in the Interstate Highway program was the southernmost portion in Slidell, La. The newest constructed portion skirts Gnorf Swamp west of Gadsden. There is still an unpaved portion near the Alabama/Georgia state line.

Last summer I clinched I-59, signed and unsigned, both directions. Later on, I’ll post some trivia and photos from my trip. Until then, here are some resources:

I-59 – Interstate Guide

I-59 Hat! I’ve already ordered one.

Federal Interstate 59 photos – Carl Rogers