Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes from the Road (Big Triangle Edition)

I'm back from my Christmas trip and looking forward to a few more days off here at home. This time, I did the BIg Triangle on my way back, going from Houston to Dallas via my sister's place in Austin. Unlike two years ago, when Kevmobile 1.2 suffered the breakdowns that would lead to its replacement a few weeks later, this one went without incident.

Here are a few random notes from the trip:
  • The traffic was only bad in a few places (I-10 heading out of Houston and I-35 around Temple), but, being a Sunday, the typical "Sunday driver" added to the slowness of things.

  • A lot of hurricane-related infrastructure has been put in place on I-10 since Ike hit the area a few years ago. Among the amusing things were the little hurricane-shaped logos painted in the right shoulder, allowing its use as an extra lane in that situation, and the signage that allows all traffic to head westbound during evacuations. They're known as "contravac" lanes (a combination of "contraflow" and "evacuate"), which sounds like an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner.

  • I was on a bit of a tight schedule, seeing as how I wanted to get back in time for the Cowboys game. But if I hadn't, I would have taken a picture of a fireworks stand I passed on Hwy. 71 between La Grange and Bastrop; I swear the front of the building said "BUY 1 GET 11 FREE."

  • I also would have stopped to photograph things like the giant Texas star atop the front gate of a ranch in the same area, and the giant golf ball on a tee a few miles down the road, not to mention the giant pig statuary outside of Eddy. (They do say that everything's big in Texas, ya know.)

  • For the most part, the trip from west of Houston to Austin along Hwy. 71 has been improved a great deal since I was a kid, with freeway-type bypasses in Columbus, La Grange Smithville and most of Bastrop (I don't miss the stoplights in La Grange at all, though the Smithville bypass makes me less likely to stop at the old Dairy Queen, which was a common haunt on our way to/from State Solo and Ensemble in high school).

  • But that being said, they really need to get the freeway done in front of the airport--pretty much the area between the new SH130 bypass and Riverside Drive, where the stoplight lasts for an eternity--as soon as possible. It's being studied as a toll road at the moment, and that's one toll that I'd happily pay.

  • I also noticed something interesting driving past the airport: There's a huge disparity between the businesses on the north and south sides of the freeway. (Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, located on the site of a former Air Force base, opened in 1999.) On the south side, where the airport is located, there is a big, nice hotel and lots of green space. But on the north side, dilapidated old gas stations and a couple of XXX video stores remain from the area's pre-airport days. I bet the airport officials can't wait until those places go out of business so that the area can be redeveloped, and I'll bet they're glad that part of the freeway infrastructure has already been built, to separate the two sides.)

  • Speaking of freeways that need to be improved, it seems that there's really no excuse (save, of course, money) for I-35 not to be six lanes in each direction all the way from Dallas to San Antonio. It's getting done little by little, but the area that seems to need the most immediate attention would be Temple, where post-Christmas traffic made for a rush-hour-like scenario on a Sunday afternoon. The Temple segment will also be the most difficult to widen because it's either embedded in concrete canyons or on elevated bridges that already cover part of the service roads. TxDOT is talking about it already, but it's likely to take a while before it gets done.

  • Continuing the road rantlet for just a moment, I wonder why the beautiful reconstructions of I-35 between Dallas and Waco--the recently-done section near Italy, the section currently under construction between there and Waxahachie, and the part between Hillsboro and Abbott that took at least a decade to complete--were only done as four-lane facilities instead of six; it seems like they'll just have to go in later and add the extra lane. (My guess is money; it's a real shame that the Texas Legislature keeps raiding the gas tax revenues to use on other projects; there oughta be a law...)

  • And to end on a more positive note, the kolaches at the Czech Stop were, as always, superb. And I'm glad that they have the Little Czech Bakery next door, which helps one to avoid the long lines at the Czech Stop--which was packed, as always--when kolaches are the only thing being purchased.
With hopefully a few relaxing days this week, regular blogging should continue without interruption.

Notes from a future road: While researching the SH 71 improvements above, I came across a page devoted to the extension of SH 249 in Montgomery and Grimes counties, which would alleviate almost all the traffic problems I experienced last month at the Renaissance Festival (save for getting out of the festival's parking lot, of course). Build away, folks...

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