Posts Tagged ‘I-66’

Fun with Highways: Washington, DC and Maryland

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Today our “Primary Highways” series continues with a visit to our nation’s capital and the neighboring state of Maryland.

The oft-used phrase “inside the beltway” literally means inside the Capital Beltway (I-495 and I-95), which forms a wide circle outside of Washington, DC through the surrounding suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.

From the western side of the beltway, we begin on Interstate 66 and US 50 heading east from Virginia over the Potomac River. I-66 turns north while US 50 continues eastward as Constitution Avenue, passing alongside the National Mall and all the national memorials and monuments, which are arranged around the mall and the parkland along the Tidal Basin.


[By Alex Boykov (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

On the north side of US 50, opposite with Washington Monument, is the Ellipse, a public park that borders the iconic south lawn of the White House. This building and the privilege of occupying it are the nominal reason we are doing this series.

Past the White House and Washington Monument, US 50 meets US 1, and the two continue as Constitution Avenue alongside the eastern half of the Mall. This section of Mall houses the many museums of the Smithsonian Institution. As a child visiting Washington, DC, the “Smithsonian” was synonymous with the Air and Space Museum. It was of course exciting to connect with all things space. Years later, I visited the Air and Space Museum again with my family (and saw a Star Trek anniversary exhibit), but also was enticed by a welcoming sign to the interesting circular building that housed the neighboring museum. The Hirshhorn Museum is the center on the Mall for modern and contemporary art, and a place I try to visit when I have time alone in the capital. It’s a been a while, so I would like to visit again sometime soon. You can see the Hirshhorn in the image of the Mall shown above as the cylindrical building just left of the center. At the far eastern end of the Mall is the Capitol.

The huge building serves as model for many (though as we have seen, not all) state capitol buildings. Though it had a long history of designs and changes before acquiring its current design and the large iconic cast-iron dome we know today. You can read more about this history here. Of course, the institutions housed inside have served as models as well, sometimes in a less-than-ideal way.

The Capitol is surrounded by several blocks of grounds, including the Capitol Reflecting Pool. While wandering around these grounds on foot, one would probably not suspect that there was a major highway passing underneath. I-395 traverses the center of the city in the long Third Street Tunnel, connecting to US 50 (New York Avenue) in the northern sectors. The densely packed residential sections of the Capitol Hill neighborhood can be found to the east, and a lively urban neighborhood to the northwest around Logan Circle.


[By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Black Cat, and institution for independent music that also happens to have a great name.

South of the Third Street Tunnel, I-395 continues towards Virginia and a junction with the Beltway at the Springfield Interchange (aka, the Mixing Bowl). Before crossing the Potomac, it intersects with I-695, a short connector to the Anacosta Freeway in the southeast section of the city. It is signed as I-295 and also as DC 295. It is the only signed DC highway that currently exists, but it is another thing that gives the District of Columbia the trappings of a state, except of course that it isn’t a state and doesn’t have voting representatives in Congress. Hence another state-like item, the district’s license place, continues to bear the Revolutionary War slogan “Taxation without Representation”.

DC 295 continues northeast to the border with Maryland…


…where it continues as Maryland Route 295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The parkway is partly maintained by the National Park Service. In this segment, it is a wide road through wooded surroundings, although industrial and suburban areas are never far away. Further north, it becomes an expressway through the suburbs south of Baltimore as it heads towards that city. The parkway ends at a I-95. Nearby, a larger and impressive junction over water takes the short I-395 (completely unrelated to the one we just left in Washington, DC.) until downtown Baltimore, passing by Camden Yards and just to the west of the Inner Harbor.


[By Fletcher6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0; or GFDL;], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Inner Harbor is considered an urban planning achievement, turning a moribund harbor in a major tourist and business destination. It look quite vibrant, with modern buildings and attractions like the National Aquarium.

Baltimore has quite a diversity of architecture and landscape. It is most well-known for its rowhouses. A particularly unique set is the colorful row in the Charles Village neigbhorhood:

Perhaps more typical are the long stretches of similar brick rowhouses. Sadly, many seem to be in disrepair, as along this street in a neighborhood west of the Inner Harbor.


[Photo by larrysphatpage on flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

One interesting view in the same neighborhood features this full overhead sign along an abandoned ramp that is used by pedestrians.


[Photo by larrysphatpage on flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

US 1 is in fact nearby, so the sign is accurate, but it could still be considered an example of a Thomasson, a maintained architectural feature that no longer serves its original function. It was part of the cancelled I-170 highway.

Baltimore is also home to Johns Hopkins University. It is of course a renowned research and medical university, but the division I know best is the Peabody Institute, as several musical friends and colleagues have studied there, particularly in their classical and music-technology programs.

We head south from Baltimore towards the Chesapeake Bay on I-97, where has the distinction of being the shorted two-digit interstate. It passes through hills and suburban towns to US 50 near Annapolis, the state capital. I remember visiting Annapolis in 1999 and 2000. The 1999 visit included walking around the historic district and into the statehouse, one of the oldest in the country with a distinctly colonial look about it, and watching July 4 fireworks on the bay. It was also during an intense heatwave, with some days over 100F. I didn’t mind the heat too much, and it made it great weather for swimming. The towns and cities along the bay, including Annapolis, seemed intimately connected to the water.

US 50 (with US 301) continues east on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Maryland’s eastern shore region. It then heads south, avoiding Delaware, before turning east again towards the Atlantic Ocean. It’s final terminus is in the resort town of Ocean City. The highway has a cerimonial terminus at MD 528, not far from the Ocean City beach and boardwalk, with a sign stating that is 3072 miles to its western end of Sacramento, California. I have seen the companion sign on the Sacramento side stating that is 3072 miles to Ocean City. Apparently that sign is stolen quite often.

Back in Baltimore, we return to the western neighborhoods, not far from the rowhouses we explored earlier, and head west on US 40. Just past Gwynns Falls / Leakin Park, we come to a parking lot that is the eastern terminus of Interstate 70. It was originally planned to go further through the city, but that extension was ultimately cancelled. In this case, we take I-70 westward out of the city.

This part of the state is quite sparse west of the Baltimore metropolitan area is quite rural and sparse, and in some ways would seem to be a separate state, more in common with West Virginia. I-70 and US 40 run together or nearby for much of the region. As I-70 heads northwest into Pennsylvania, I-68 continues with US 40 west through the Appalachian Mountains, including this cut through Sideling Hill.


[By Analogue Kid at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons]

This does seem a world away from Ocean City, and from Baltimore and Washington, DC., but in total Maryland is actually a fairly small state.

This concludes this edition of Primary Highways. We will next be visiting Wisconsin.

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Fun with Highways: Super Tuesday Part 1 (Vermont, Virginia, Tennessee)

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Ahead of the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, we at CatSynth will try to virtually visit many, though not all, of the states involved.

We begin in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont along State Highway 114. It winds its way from the most remote northeastern corner of the state and The Kingdom State Forest eventually into the towns and lakes of the region.


[Photo by Dougtone on flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

The scenery as seen in images often is lush and green, when it isn’t brightly colored in the autumn. It is not surprising that the Green Mountains and the state of Vermont were given their verdant names. It’s also interesting to note how different the terrain and scenery is from neighboring New Hampshire. As a reader noted in our New Hampshire edition on DailyKos, the Connecticut River that divides the two states also separates radically different geological structures between the Green Mountains of Vermont (an extension of the very old Appalachian Mountains) and the younger, rockier mountains of New Hampshire. The geography lead to very different settlement patterns, different economies (farming in Vermont versus industry in New Hampshire) and perhaps into the modern political contrasts as well.

In terms of life in The Northeast Kingdom, I often turn to the blog meeyauw, who has over the years mixed great photography from her nearby landscape with cats and mathematics. I did enjoy these recent pictures from the author’s home near Barton Mountain, not far from Highway 16.

We can follow VT 16 back to Interstate 91, the main highway in and out of the “The Kingdom”. Heading south on I-91, the terrain looks a lot like eastern New York, hilly and forested. We turn off the highway onto US 2 and head west to Montpelier, the state capital. It has the distinction of being the smallest state capital in the U.S.


[By Jared C. Benedict [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is in Montpelier that we turn onto Interstate 89, which crosses the state diagonally from New Hampshire in the southeast to the Canadian border in the northwest. Along the way it connects the capital to the largest city, Burlington. Although I-89 never enters the city, it is easy to connect to the downtown via US 2.


[By Jared and Corin (Church Street, Burlington, Vermont) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Probably more than any other place in Vermont, Burlington defines the state’s current political reputation. It is home to Bernie Sanders, onetime socialist mayor of the city and current U.S. Senator. We at CatSynth have long been fans of Sanders, not only for his political views but also his strong Brooklyn accent. Burlington is also the birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. The city itself is on Lake Champlain, and one can look out from its waterfront across the lake to New York State.

Lake Champlain contains several large islands, particularly in its northern half. US 2 traverses most of these, including Grand Isle via a network of bridges and causeways before heading west at the north end of the lake, where Vermont, New York and Quebec all meet.


[Photo by Dougtone on flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

The islands themselves have small bays and interesting geography, including one bay called “The Gut.”


From Vermont, we jump to Virginia, the other state that begins with the letter “V”. We begin just south of Washington, DC at the notorious Mixing Bowl Interchange.


[Click image to enlarge.]

The Mixing Bowl, also known as the Springfield Interchange, connects I-95, I-495 (the Capital Beltway) and I-395. The latter heads north into the center of Washington DC, while I-495 casts a wide circle through the suburbs. The interchange is complex-looking enough and well-known enough to have even gotten its own “Fun with Highways” article back in 2009. While the interchange in its current configuration is complicated, the aerial view is even more so because of the “ghosts” of ramps that were removed during a massive reconstruction project.

We can stay in Virginia on I-495 heading “west” (though what is west on a circular highway?) and turn west on I-66. The highway is quite crowded in the growing suburbs of northern Virginia, but starts to quiet as one moves westward. Along the way, one passes Bull Run and Manassas of Civil-War battle fame. There was not one but two major battles here. I am pretty sure there are more Civil War sites in Virginia than any other state, and many in the northern part of the state like Manassas are likely getting absorbed into the expanding suburbs. I-66 continues west towards the Appalachian Mountains, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains that form the eastern edge of the range. Before its end, we can turn southward to Shenandoah National Park and tour the Skyline Drive.


[Wallygva at en.wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons]

Skyline drive runs for 105 miles and offers spectacular views of the mountains. I have heard (and seen photos) that suggest it can at times get quite foggy as well, though. Nonetheless, doing the entire drive seems like it would be rewarding if one is not in a hurry. In addition to the views, there are details such as the rather narrow Mary Rock Tunnel. The southern end of Skyline Drive connects to I-64. One can head east towards Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia and one of the country’s shrines, Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello.


[By YF12s (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The geometric aspects, symmetries and design are quite interesting, as are some of the inventions and features inside. One can tell it was a labor of love (and obsession) for its owner. For some reason, one thing that stuck with me when visiting is the idea of “a home within a home”, a much more modest actual living space almost self contained within the grander designed building.

Back on I-64, we can head west onto Interstate 81 which runs along much of the Appalachian Mountains. It passes through hills, valleys and towns along the way, and is indeed a major corridor for the interior eastern US, connecting the northeast with the south. As such, it connects to our next state.


We continue on I-81 into Tennessee, where it ends at I-40. Here we leave the interstate and head south first on TNĀ 66 and then US 441 to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has the distinction of being the most visited national park in the U.S. It offers great views of the southern Appalachian mountains, both scenic vistas of the mountains and details such as streams and waterfalls.

The other thing I remember from a visit as a teenager was encountering black bears. Even as one is cognizant of the fact that the bears are potentially dangerous wild animals, there is something quite endearing about them.

We did also go to the top of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies and the highest point in Tennessee.

We can west from the park on US 441 to the city of Knoxville.


[By Kg4ygs – Jeffrey Paul Prickett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

I do like the Sunsphere, though it looks quite out of place, a future retro design from a past era (or maybe a disco ball). It’s the sort of thing one expects to see abandoned as in the New York Worlds Fair, in a delightfully dystopian setting like Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. However, the Sunsphere sits in a well-maintained green park and has been reopened with an observation deck, cafes, and what I am guessing must be quite unique office space .

Continuing westward on I-40 through the state, our focus shifts to music. Nashville is of course a major music-industry center, both in terms of records and musical instruments, and is synonymous with country music (though in fairness the city is home to other types of music as well such as alternative rock). But I think I would identify more with its neighbor to the west, Memphis. Memphis is home to important early blues, but I think it is the later Electric Blues, early Rock-and-Roll and Memphis Soul (as epitomized by Stax Records) that most interest me – even as a mostly “experimental” composer, the sounds of these genres are a strong influence. I can’t personally speak to an I-40 musical rivalry between Nashville and Memphis, but perhaps some readers may be able to contribute here.

Indeed, I-40 is named the “Isaac Hays Memorial Highway” on its eastern approach to Memphis. Long before he was Chef on South Park, Isaac Hays was a leading figure in Memphis Soul on Stax. I-40 and I-240 together form a beltway around this city’s outer neighborhoods, but its downtown and many of its most famous landmarks lie further west, between I-240/I-69 and the Mississippi River. Just off this highway south of downtown is the Stax Museum on McLemore Avenue. Further north on off I-240/I-69 is large exit for Union Ave, which carries several number designations all at once (US 51/64/70/79). Union Avenue was once home to Sun Records which produced many of the earlier Rock-and-Roll artists of the 1950s. Union Avenue also provides access to Beale Street.


[Photo by ChaseGorden on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]


[By Jack E. Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is a major tourist destination now with blues clubs, based on its historic significance in the development of the music. But it did go through a rough period before it was revitalized as the original music industry and the area in general went into decline in the 1960s. Consider this picture.

The Daisy Theater is still visible, but other than that the street looks run down – but somehow “authentic.” It is perhaps best to think of the new revitalized touristy street as just another phase of its history.


Because we are attempting to visit many states at once, each one will inevitably get less attention (this is true of the political process that is happening in parallel). As always, it is great to get feedback and ideas of places we missed. So please don’t be shy about leaving us your comments.

In tomorrow’s installment, we will explore a few more states, in particular Ohio and Idaho.

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