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.
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.
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.
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.
One interesting view in the same neighborhood features this full overhead sign along an abandoned ramp that is used by pedestrians.
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.
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.
Our primary highways series continues today with a visit to the state of Illinois.
Throughout this series, I have been drawn to many of the large cities of the Midwest and Great Lakes. And none of these looms larger than Chicago. And none is taller. Chicago is home to the tallest building in the United States, the Sears Tower (officially, it is now called the Willis Tower but I doubt too many people call it that).
Downtown Chicago is a true vertical city, with not just a few tall buildings, but the densely packed skyscrapers that form deep canyons, much like Manhattan. But the presence of the Chicago River cutting a channel through the middle of downtown is quite unique. The buildings seem to come up to the water’s edge.
The Chicago River connects to Lake Michigan, but thanks to the miracles of human engineering, it actually flows in the other direction away from the lake (UPDATE: thanks to an astute reader on DailyKos for the correction!). US 41, Lake Shore Drive crosses at the mouth of the river in this unusual double-decker drawbridge. (The Aon Center is the tall building in the background. It reminds me a bit of something else.)
US 41 / Lake Shore Drive continues north and south of bridge as a scenic expressway with city buildings to one side and beaches along the lake to the other. The south end of the expressway is in the Hyde Park neighborhood, home of a certain Barack Obama.
Back in downtown, we find the complicated Circle Interchange, where I-90 and I-94 intersect with I-290 and the Congress Parkway. This interchange, which is often considered one of the worst bottlenecks in the country, connects the downtown to the lakefront and to the suburbs south and west of the city.
If we take I-290 west from this geometric oddity of an interchange, we come to the suburb of Oak Park. It was here that Frank Lloyd Wright began his storied architectural career. His home and studio in the town is a landmark, and there are numerous early examples of his prairie-style houses. Looking at his home and studio, one can see the elements that would be later refined in prairie style.
There is so much in Chicago I could go on about with regards to art, architecture, music and culture, but space is limited. I do have to give a shout-out to the Art Institute of Chicago, however. It’s collection is large and encyclopedic, but they do have sections that focus on both American and contemporary art. I would particularly like to see the new modern wing, both the building and the art contained within. For music, I invite readers to share the ideas and suggestions of what to explore in the city.
Back at the Circle Interchange, we head south on I-90/I-94, the Dan Ryan Expressway., one of the widest and busiest highways in the country. It has wide sections for both local and express lines, and a line of Chicago’s “L” runs down the center. I-90 veers off onto the Chicago Skyway, but I-94 continues south (though designated as “east”) on the Dan Ryan Expressway until the junction with I-57.
Continuing south on I-57, we pass by our friend I-80 in the southern suburbs of Chicago and eventually come to Champaign and Urbana after crossing I-74 – it does seem that Illinois has a lot of interstate highways. This cities are home to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, the flagship campus of the University of Illinois. It hosts the NCSA (The National Center for Supercomputing Applications) that created the first graphical web browser Mosaic.
It’s hard to imagine life without this technology now, it is ubiquitous and integrated into so much of information, communication and entertainment. Of course, without it you would not reading this article, and I would probably not be writing it. Earlier in its history, the University was home to ILLIAC. At the time it was activated in 1952, it was the largest computer built and owned by an American university. This huge vacuum-tube based machine had 5 kilobytes of main memory and 64k of drum memory. For perspective, consider how much more memory and computation is in an iPhone now.
Before we overdose on computer history, we exit Champaign-Urbana on I-72 heading westward. (Did we mention that Illinois has a lot of interstate highways?). This view along the highway suggests just how flat the landscape is in this region, with the road completely straight.
Continuing on I-72, we come to Springfield, the state capital.
Springfield is steeped in the history and mythology of Lincoln, probably more than any other city in the state. He lived there for 24 years and launched his political career there. And his final resting place, Lincoln’s Tomb is in Springfield.
[Lincoln’s Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois, 2006. Robert Lawton (self), via Wikimedia Commons.]
We also find another well-known Frank Lloyd Wright home in Springfield, the Dana-Thomas House. It has rather large and often considered a “prairie mansion”. It does contain the horizontal forms and low angular ceilings characteristic of prairie style, but the most notable features that distinguish are the windows.
We head south from Springfield on I-55, on another incredibly straight stretch of highway through very flat landscape. For those who have lived among hills our entire lives, these flat plains are a novel experience. It’s not only the land, but also the sky.
There is a significant break in the flat landscape of western Illinois along the Illinois River. Illinois Route 100 runs along the the west bank of the river amidst trees and bluffs. It then crosses a bridge and continues along the east side until the Illinois River meets the Mississippi River.
IL-100 continues along the Mississippi as part of the the Great River Road. As one can see, the landscape here is no longer flat.
The Great River Road continues past the end of IL-100 and into the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. As the landscape along the river becomes more suburban and then urban in St. Clair county, the road bounces around many other designations, including I-70 in East St. Louis. From here we can continue across the Mississippi to St. Louis itself, or continue southward on the Great River Road as IL-3.
We opt for the latter, passing through towns with Egyptian sounding names until we come to Cairo, at the southern tip of the state, where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet. We meet I-57 again and then continue into the town itself on US 51. Cairo (pronounced KAY-RO) was once a significant center of trade along the rivers. But it has been in a long decline, and now has a population of about 2,800. Indeed, some views of the town make it look nearly abandoned.
The photo almost looks like something from Doug Rickard’s series. It’s sad, but also quite interesting in a way. It’s a long way between Chicago and Cairo, but it would be great to see and photograph both of them in one big trip across the state.
Today we devote the second of our “Super Tuesday” Fun with Highways articles to the state of Ohio. Although the state is often known for its agricultural and industrial heritage, we choose to focus on its major urban centers here. Although not originally intended as such, it could be called “fun with bridges.”
We begin near Cleveland, the state’s largest metropolitan area. I-90 comes in from the east along the shore of Lake Erie. At “Dead Man’s Curve”, the highway makes an abrupt and rather angular turn to the south to become the Innerbelt Freeway along the edge of downtown.
The above view shows old and new aspects of the city’s skyline. The Terminal Tower is the classic deco skyscraper from the early 20th century is visible in the distance. The highly geometric and sleek Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a contrast along the waterfront. In between, the Key Tower, the tallest in Ohio, combines elements of both.
I-90 intersects with the northern terminus of I-77 at a rather complicated interchange before continuing across the Cuyahoga River on the “Innerbelt Bridge.”
The bridge crossings over the Cuyahoga in Cleveland are numerous, and perhaps define the city as much as the skyline, if not more. Even the image above showing the Innerbelt Bridge carrying I-90, we see several others. There is a low-lying rail bridge crossing underneath at an angle. It is one of many low bridges that can be raised for water traffic on the river. I believe this one is no longer in use and is permanently in the raised position.
The most iconic of the many crossings is the Detroit-Superior Bridge carrying US 6 and US 20 across the river into downtown. The name seems a little odd, as we’re not in Detroit and Cleveland is on Lake Erie rather than Lake Superior. But it connects Detroit Avenue with West Superior Avenue and thus the name is quite appropriate. It rises high above the river and is quite picturesque against the downtown skyline.
Looking towards the lake from this bridge, one sees how closely packed the crossings are, and the diversity of shape, height, function, and level of disuse. In the picture below, we see the blue bridge carrying a major freeway, State Highway 2, beyond that a rail bridge, and in the front the ruins of the older Detroit Avenue viaduct.
The viaduct, like the unused rail bridge shown above, are quite interesting as artistic subjects, and even qualify as “hyperart” as described in conceptual artist Akasegawa Genpei in his book Hyperart: Thomasson (you can find out more about it here). Thus, it should not be surprising that I would very much like to visit this part of the city for artistic inspiration, to explore the bridges both in use and abandoned, as well as other places along in this industrial riverfront section of the city known as the Flats.
Cleveland has actually long served as a magnet for artists interested in urban and industrial landscape, so this is nothing new. Indeed, the city has seen the same cycle of others where rundown or neglected neighborhoods attract artists in search of low rent and inspiration, and then the costs of living rise. But it still seems to have much to offer and I hope to get the chance to visit soon.
We depart Cleveland continuing on I-90, and then switch onto I-71 to journey diagonally across the length and breadth of the state. It winds through the suburbs, crossing many other highways before intersecting our friend I-80, which runs across the state as the Ohio Turnpike. The Ohio Turnpike is familiar from numerous cross-country trips, with the rolling hills and suburbs giving way to a much straighter road over flat terrain and farmland as one heads west. But in this instance, we continue south on I-71 towards Columbus, the state’s capital and largest city.
Columbus is in the middle of the state, and without much to get in the way it has developed the “standard” set of ring roads we see in many cities around the world: an outer beltway (in this case, I-270) and an inner belt around the downtown (a combination of I-70, I-71, I-670 and State Highway 315).
Looking at the Ohio State House, it initially looks like something is missing: the dome that is ubiquitous on so many seats of government. It appears as if it has been shaved off. In actuality, this is part of the design, an older Greek Revival design that predates the current Capitol dome in Washington, DC, that was then used subsequently in most states.
Columbus does have its bridges as well, including the Lane Avenue Bridge which includes some classical elements in its otherwise modern design.
And of course I would be remiss if I did not mention Ohio State, as I have several friends who are devoted lifelong fans due to their connections to either the university of the community.
Leaving Columbus, we continue southwest on I-71 to Cincinnati.
[Photo by Rdikeman]
One stop we must make while in the city is to the Contemporary Arts Center. The CAC is perhaps most famous for its exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1990 that still resonates in discussions of “controversial art” (though honestly Mapplethorpe’s photographs themselves don’t seem that controversial anymore, I have seen on multiple occasions in recent years). But the museum is more recently known for its building with fragmented geometric sections designed by architect Zaha Hadid; and for programs that feature architecture and design.
The city is home to the Cincinnati Art Museum. It is a relatively conventional art museum with a wide-ranging collection, but it does include yet another piece by Mark di Suvero for us to encounter is this series. Atman is another large red metal outdoor sculpture, but without the typical rounded element.
Cincinnati lies along the state’s namesake river, which forms the border with Kentucky to the south. As such the city has its own set of bridges, though nothing to approach the density of Cleveland. The most interesting perhaps is the John A Roebling Bridge. One can see many of the elements that Roebling would ultimately use in New York for the Brooklyn Bridge.
Another Cincinnati Bridge that has been in the news is the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries I-71 together with I-75 south into Kentucky. The bridge is featured prominently in the city skyline image above. It also one of the 15 bridges labeled by the Federal government as “structurally unsafe”, which sounds quite bad (indeed, President Obama used it as a backdrop for a speech about rebuilding our infrastructure). The bridge itself made the case in 2011 when chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck to the lower deck. Proposals are currently being considered for a replacement.
Our “Primary Highways” series continues with a visit to Colorado. This edition is a bit different, in that I trace a family trip from a great many years ago, but insert more contemporary interests along the way.
We initially entered from the northeast on I-76. The road was relatively straight here amidst softly rolling hills of the High Plains. The landscape is dotted with farms amidst open grassland. The Rocky Mountains appear to rise from the plains quite suddenly, as does the city of Denver.
On that original family trip, we did not actually stop in Denver, but here we will do so. We turn south on I-25 along the edge of downtown Denver, passing through the interchange with I-70 known as “The Mousetrap.” We exit with US 6 which is surprisingly enough Sixth Avenue in Denver. Actually, it’s a freeway, the “Sixth Avenue Freeway.” Heading east in the freeway, it empties out onto city streets near the Santa Fe Arts District. A quick look at the websites for the galleries along the corridor suggests a relatively conservative selection, though I did see some interesting things from Sparks. Further north we find the Denver Art Museum.
This building, which is just part of the museum, is designed by Daniel Libeskind, who also designed the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the plan for the new World Trade Center complex in New York. The shape of the building is intended to reflect the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, although such angles appear quite often in Libeskind’s architecture. In front of the museum, we also find once again another sculpture by Mark di Suvero, who we have encountered before in this series. This one is called Lao Tzu. The museum currently has an exhibit of Garry Winograd photography that I wouldn’t mind seeing.
We leave Denver on I-70 and head into the mountains, on one of the most spectacular stretches of interstate highway in the country. At the Continental Divide, there are two options. One can stay on I-70 through the Eisenhower Tunnel, or take a detour on US 6 up through Loveland Pass. We opted for the latter on that original trip, with spectacular views of mountains in all directions, and a chance to walk on a patch of hardened snow and ice…in August. Not surprisingly, it was quite cold. I don’t have any pictures from that trip, but here is what the pass looks like today:
Further west, I-70 meets the mighty Colorado River and winds its way through Glenwood Canyon, which was my introduction to the southwest with its distinctive colors and rock formations. The difference from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains and the peaks is dramatic. And while I loved the forested mountains, there is something personally compelling about the sheer red rocks. The highway itself is also quite a marvel, both in terms engineering and aesthetics as it attempts to be both functional and blend with the landscape.
Along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon, one passes a turn off for a place called No Name. The community of No Name supposedly did not receive its name (or lack thereof) until the coming of I-70, when it was assigned to the exit because the area lacked a formal name. There is also No Name Creek and No Name Canyon, and a No Name Tunnel on the highway.
I-70 and US 6 descend from the Rocky Mountains into the town of Grand Junction, where they meet US 50. One can exit the interstate here and travel on State Highway 340 through Grand Junction and Fruita to Colorado National Monument.
The formations in the monument have this distinctive bottle shape – not unique to this location, but I noticed more of them there. Another thing I noticed there was an upper layer of rock, more gray than red, then seemed to have been gone from the more well-known canyons and formations in Utah and Arizona. It was also my first chance to see the rocks up close and personal, touch them and observe the details.
From there, we took I-70/US 6/US 50 west into Utah. But, we later reentered Colorado from the Four Corners along US 160. The quiet and stark southwestern landscape particularly appealed to me then and still does now. We then headed north on what was then US 666 (the “Devil’s Highway”), but has since been renumbered as US 491. Honestly, I wish they kept the 666 designation. But it is what it is. The two highways separate in the town of Cortez, and one can continue on 160 east to Mesa Verde National Park.
The Cliff Palace was is largest of the cliff dwellings in the park. The geometric shapes and layout still present in the dwelling are quite interesting. There are distinctive towers, one square tower reaching almost to the ceiling of the cave, and the round tower; and also the sunken round spaces known as kivas. One can see the parallels in these ancient structures to contemporary southwest architecture as well.
I have not had much time to re-explore the southwest in recent years, except for a bit of Arizona, so I would very much like to return to Colorado sometime soon.