The End of the Road
6:00 pm
Sun June 8, 2014

Seriously, What's So Great About I-95?

Credit Kenny Malone

As part of our End of the Road series -- about the final 87 miles of I-95 -- we’ve asked a lot of questions: Why don’t people seem to get in trouble for speeding in the express lanes? What even is the speed limit in the express lanes? When you accidentally cut someone off, what should you do when they pull a gun on you?

Admittedly, it was going to be awhile before we got around to: How awesome is I-95? And that’s a good thing because it turns out Barbara Barnes has already compiled 187 pages of “What’s Great About I-95: Maine to Florida.”

Barnes set out to make a 95 road trip more tolerable by turning it into a guided tour of the East Coast.

Look out your window near Exit 8 in Delaware and, somewhere out there, is the mansion that F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in while writing "Tender Is The Night."

Mile Post 175 in South Carolina? A Black Hawk helicopter from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, crashed almost exactly where you are.

Barnes sat down with WLRN-Miami Herald News to help us try and appreciate I-95 as more than just a source of rage and misery.

What is great about I-95?

Well, it wasn’t until I researched another road, I-80, where the road is so varied and the landscape is so varied. So looking back on it, I would say one of the things that stands out about I-95 is the lack of topography that I-95 goes through. So it’s flatter than most of the other roads would be in almost anywhere else in the country.

That’s true. I don’t know that that’s a “great” thing, but it certainly is an interesting thing.

It does make it a little more boring, though.

At the heart, this book is really a travel guide with strange history and anecdotes that lets a kid in the back seat, for example, sort of follow the stories along with the map. What were some of your favorite highlights from our neck of the woods down here in South Florida?

Well, one of my favorites is the story of the barefoot mailman. About 1885, there were no roads between Palm Beach and Miami. There would be a steamer that was coming from New York City and pick up a letter, go to Cuba and then bring the letter back to Miami. So it took months.

So there was a guy from Kentucky who volunteered to be the local mailman and he couldn’t go inland so he walked along the beach [between] Palm Beach and Miami. But then one day he never showed up down in Miami. And when they went to investigate what happened to him, they just found his mailbag at a little inlet where he had to cross the water. And the supposition is that he got eaten by a gator.

And then soon after that they put roads in so it wasn’t such an arduous task to deliver a letter.

Was there anything else featured from south of West Palm Beach?

Well, really close to that is the Rosemary Scrub Natural Area. This is one of the few places where the construction of I-95 really benefited nature.

When they decided where I-95 should go it cut off a piece of land, natural scrub land, that was destined to be used as another strip mall. But when I-95 came through, you couldn’t get to that piece of land anymore and so they left it as natural scrub land.

So you can actually see exactly the kind of land that that barefoot mailman would have had to go through had he gone inland. And that’s right around milepost 59.

In researching the book you drove, at some point, the entire length of I-95 -- all 1,920 miles. In South Florida we take an almost perverse pride in how awful I-95 driving and I-95 drivers can be. So I’m wondering, how did we stack up with the other major metropolitan areas you had to drive through?

It wasn’t bad at all, not at all. I have heard horror stories about Miami interstates and I just didn’t experience it.

You’re hurting our reputation here, you know?

Well, I come from Pittsburgh and we’re very polite drivers. So maybe there were a lot of Pittsburgh-ers down there on the interstate when I was down there.

Barbara Barnes is the author of “What’s Great About I-95: Maine to Florida.”