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Thursday was only my second time to ride on the newly opened section of I-99, central Pennsylvania’s infamous “road to nowhere.” This time I remembered to bring a camera, though the Bald Eagle Ridge portion was still in shadow. It’s amazing how quickly we can get from Tyrone to State College now.
I suppose a lot of people who had opposed this highway as passionately as we did might have a hard time using it, but we’re pragmatists, I guess. It’s kind of like voting even when you think the whole system is corrupt. Actually, the way this highway got pushed through is quite similar to the way candidates get pushed on voters: the local media presented it as a stark choice between an interstate highway on the ridgetop and continued carnage on the old, dangerous road up the valley — the “highway of death.” Any attempt to advocate for another position was drowned out by the baying of the interstate boosters. The sadly ironic outcome is that the new highway will result in far more deaths than the old one did, but the deaths will be largely of non-humans: increased roadkill of all kinds, with certain species of reptiles and amphibians probably suffering local extinctions in the long run due to inbreeding depression. And the highly acidic rock exposed by the removal of the mountaintop where the new highway goes over will undoubtedly be releasing some level of pollution into two different watersheds for centuries. From the perspective of wildlife and wildlife habitat, every highway is a highway of death.
As for “road to nowhere,” I see that even one of the biggest boosters of the project, the Altoona Mirror, has adopted the term. What does it mean when a leading local newspaper, the mouthpiece of the local chambers of commerce, asserts that this is Nowhere? Somehow, I doubt that they had the etymology of “utopia” in mind. With the completion of I-99 later on this year, the area will lose a bit more of its distictinctive character and come that much closer to generic Anytown, USA. And the elites will cheer and tell us how lucky we are, and assure us that prosperity is just around the corner. Sound familiar?