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The Industry Wouldn’t Be The Same Without Interstate Highways

National Public Radio has been running an interesting series, titled I-95 The Road Most Traveled. It is the nation’s longest interstate that runs north and south, connecting Maine to Florida and passing through 15 states, more than any other interstate.

Although the route of much of I-95 was trod by combatants in the revolutionary war, the decision to build what is now officially called The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways has transformed America. It unified the country, sped commerce, made suburbia a commonplace; made modern logistics possible.

It is hard for younger members of the industry to realize this, but before the Interstate system it was imperative for a produce facility of any size to be built on a rail spur. The Department of Transportation has an interesting post that talks about the impact of the Interstate on freight, titled Moving the Goods: As the Interstate Era Begins

In fact, the population distribution itself has been determined in no small part by the routes the highway system traverses. A quick glance at the routes of I-95 and I-75 tells us it is not an accident that the population on the east coast of Florida is heavily populated by ex–residents of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, while the west coast of Florida is heavy to ex-residents of Detroit, Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati and various Midwestern cities.

Considering the impact of the interstate system, it is not surprising that it would impact the produce industry, yet we still found it interesting that NPR’s series would have a lot of things of interest to the trade.

The opening piece, Starting A Journey On I-95, The Road Most Traveled, includes a neat map that shows how the density of population has grown along the route as the route has grown.

The second piece, At Last, I-95’s Missing Link Hits The Road, tells the story of, how, just now, they are beginning construction on a 7-year plan to plug a 12-mile “missing link” on I-95 near the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The third piece , It’s The Heart That Keeps I-95’s Economy Pumping, is about the Port of Savannah and how its growth and success would be inconceivable without I-95. Yet the same could actually be said of every port up and down the coast. These ports, of course, are major export and import portals for the trade.

The fourth piece, Paying A Local Price For I-95’s Global Promise, points out that the routes chosen were political decisions and that there were both winners and losers for each choice taken.

The fifth piece, Northernmost Maine? I-95 Won’t Get You There, tells how the potato farmers and lumber producers celebrated in the 1940’s when the Maine legislature approved a highway plan that would go all the way up the state. Their dreams, however, were shattered after the Interstate Act was passed and plans were reshuffled. The route of I-95 took a sharp turn to connect to the Trans-Canada Highway, leaving the northern part of the State without an Interstate.

The sixth piece focuses on next generation rest stops with a piece titled, That’s No Rest Stop, It’s A ‘Travel Plaza.’ The piece highlights the newly reopened 42,000-square-foot Delaware Welcome Center Travel Plaza, conveniently located right near the headquarters of the Produce Marketing Association. The Plaza features seven foodservice outlets, including heavy fresh users such as Baja Fresh. The plaza’s Z Market convenience store also has fresh foods and fresh fruit.

The seventh piece is produce-specific, I-95, A ‘Trap’ For Migrant Fruit Pickers, highlights that as the most efficient route for traveling the east coast, I-95 attracts illegal migrant laborers. Then, not surprisingly, the piece notes that these illegal migrant workers are afraid they may get caught when they travel.

The eighth piece, Eat Your Way Down I-95, And Other Stops To Make, features an interview with the authors of a book titled, Drive I-95: Exit by Exit Info, Maps, History and Trivia, that encourages people to find great food and interesting things off of the Interstate.

This gets to the heart of the dilemma posed by the interstate: It is fast, it ties us together and makes us one people. Yet it is a little boring. When the Pundit was a boy, the family used to drive sometimes down to Florida. The Interstate was not completed and we often had to divert to local roads. It was slow and inconvenient, but it was also interesting with local restaurants and local people.

Now with the same restaurants and hotels at every interchange and the same food chains at those travel plazas, everything is homogenized. It is, in the end, what the people prefer — the knowledge that a Holiday Inn will be clean or a Cracker Barrel will be, well, what it always is, makes travel less risky. Less interesting as well.

The ninth and final piece, Flying Cars? Conveyor Belts? The Future of I-95, focuses on new technology that will, presumably, have both people and produce zipping down the highways safely at 200 miles per hour. They talk of separate freight-only lanes that function as de facto conveyor belts carrying unmanned vehicles. Which strikes us as pretty much the definition of a railroad.

The series has some ancillary pieces, such as Things You Didn’t Know About I-95, and a list of famous road songs titled 95 Songs For Driving On I-95.

Fred “August” Campbell wrote — and Jimmy Buffet performed and popularized — a song officially called the I-95 song. It is more popularly known by a less delicate name we can’t use on this family website. Those interested can find the lyrics here.

The closest we come to a favorite I-95 song would be Simon & Garfunkel’s America. It doesn’t use the words I-95 but it does mention the New Jersey Turnpike, which is I-95 in certain places. We kind of like the way the lyrics use The New Jersey Turnpike as a metaphor for how Americans pursue happiness and come to understand themselves.

The Simon & Garfunkel version is the classic. Though the group, Yes, did a more rock and much longer version.

Yet the most poignant was probably David Bowie’s spare rendition, which opened The Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden, performed shortly following the attacks on 9/11 to raise money and provide a tribute to those who had died and those who worked in recovery and rescue. Bowie opened the concert, seated center stage, with a microphone and a Suzuki Omnichord:

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