Road Trips

Then there was the time I-70 jumped out in front of my car

More than 20 years ago I made what remains the longest road trip of my life. I drove from Terre Haute to Mississauga, Ontario, to visit one friend, and then through Niagara Falls and across central New York, and then down to Edison, New Jersey, where I visited two other friends. Then I headed home, mostly along I-70. I was bored of the Interstate by the time I crossed into Ohio, and when I saw an exit for US 40 at St. Clairsville, I took it. (This was just past the Blaine bridges, but I didn’t know that then.)

I regretted it almost immediately. My inner roadgeek had not yet awakened, and I was not amused by all the stoplights in St. Clairsville and by the fellow in front of me who was determined to drive 15 miles per hour less than the speed limit. I got out my big Rand McNally atlas (which seems downright quaint now) and looked for a way to get back onto I-70. It showed that US 40 merged onto I-70 ten or so miles ahead, just past Morristown. It even showed that the road widened to four lanes a few miles ahead of the merge.

The slowpoke turned off, and in relief I put my foot into the gas pedal. I reached an intersection where signs said to turn left to reach I-70, but I blew by it eager to drive the four-lane US 40 just ahead.

I had the four-lane highway to myself. A rusty guardrail divided the eastbound and westbound lanes. Then I passed a US 40 reassurance marker covered in black plastic, and then a big green sign also covered in black plastic. Was the road closed? Had I missed a detour? My concern turned to fright as I rounded a curve at 65 miles per hour and found myself staring right into a hillside. With no warning, the road ended right at its base! I slammed on the brakes and came to a stop just ten feet away from the end.

Rand McNally was wrong. US 40 didn’t merge onto I-70 here; rather, I-70 was built over US 40, at least 30 feet up.

I returned to the scene of my fright on this trip. Here’s the old highway at its dead end. I’m told that the road is pretty much always flooded here now. Also, the dividing guardrail was removed at some point.

Dead end

Here’s how the road curves in from the east.

Dead end

Here’s the view from the air. Simply put, I-70 was built here along the alignment of US 40 and the National Road.

US 40 follows I-70 for about the next 18 miles, to the town of Old Washington. But a remnant of old US 40 and the National Road appears just a mile later, as it emerges from underneath I-70. It’s marked as Co. Rd. 102 and Mt. Olivett Rd. on this map. Before I-70, as it headed west it cut directly across the exit at State Route 800 and followed Co. Rd. 108.

Here’s where the old road resumes. Notice how the seam down the middle goes straight even though the road was later made to curve away  to connect to another county road.

Mt. Olivet Rd.

Turning around from there, it becomes apparent that the old westbound lanes were abandoned.

Mt. Olivet Rd.

The routing of I-70 from here west to Old Washington did a real number on the National Road, but other bits and pieces remain as state and county roads if you know where to look. We’ll explore them in the next post.

I-70 obliterated some of the National Road as it crosses from Indiana into Illinois, too. Check it out.

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15 thoughts on “Then there was the time I-70 jumped out in front of my car

  1. Lone Primate says:

    I love stuff like this! The photos really speak to me. :)

    I have a similar story but it’s more urban. For a while I lived in the city of Hamilton, ON, before we moved away. Years later when I had my license I drove back to visit my aunt and uncle, and look at the first place I ever lived there, which was on a road called Limeridge that spans the south part of the city east and west. An expressway had been built just south of it, so close that its interchanges broke up Limeridge Road wherever they met with roads crossing Limeridge. One of them was the centre of town, Upper James Street. I was approaching it on the way to my uncle’s place when something seemed strange. Just at the last minute I hit the brakes instead of the fence that now separated Limeridge from the Upper James-Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway interchange. And I can’t claim a bend in the road let me down… it was simply driving by the map in my head instead of what my eyes were telling me!

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    • They say most accidents are caused by inattentiveness! So much of our driving is on autopilot because we “know” the route so well.

      When I was here 20 years ago, I don’t remember seeing the I-70 onramp that appears far right in the first map. Maybe I missed it, but I’m pretty sure the only way to get onto I-70 then was to backtrack to the exit just east of Morristown.

      Isn’t it a hoot how the entire four-lane US 40 looks like it would fit within the westbound lanes of I-70?

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      • Lone Primate says:

        Yes, because that shot you have looking back makes the road look substantial indeed. What I can’t get over is how busy-looking it appears at the top of the picture, only to have become virtually a dirt road by the bottom… and they haven’t sectioned it off at the last intersection yet?

        How long ago did I-70 assume the US 40 route?

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        • I gather that people fish in the pond to the north — perhaps that’s why the road’s not blocked off. But I still don’t get the lack of end-of-road signs. I don’t know when I-70 was built in this area. I know I-70’s first Ohio segment completed in the late 1960s. I can’t easily find an Internet resource that tells when the highway was completed across the state.

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        • Ok, so I asked over at aaroads.com’s forum — if anybody was going to know, it was going to be somebody there. They pointed me to the Ohio DOT Web site’s archive of state highway maps. From there, it looks like the obliteration happened around 1967. Older maps suggest that the original plans for I-70 had it skirting farther south, not destroying so much of US 40.

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    • Renee, I still haven’t plopped down the money for a GPS unit in my car. However, the mapping service built into my phone has saved my bacon a time or two!

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  2. ryoko861 says:

    I was noticing the old roads, windy, twisty, narrow. There is no way those roads back then could handle the traffic of today. The windy roads would be the cause of SO many traffic accidents. They were built for farmers and light travel from town to town back in the day. Twisting through the landscape to avoid a house or tree. How straight the interstates are. I know why they were built, but it’s just amazing how many there are now.

    Why didn’t a road department or SOMEONE put a sign “ROAD ENDS”? Like maybe some warning would have been nice!

    I agree with Renee, GPS’s can make BIG mistakes.

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    • And don’t forget about the blind hills, like this one.

      Blind hill

      I’ve wondered for a long time why there are no warning signs about this dead end!

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  3. Michael says:

    I remember you coming back from that trip. I don’t recall you mentioning the black plastic. I’m surprised they didn’t take the signs down (and how did you know it was a US 40 sign if it was covered in plastic?).

    I wonder how the detour went while 70 was under construction.

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    • I guessed that they were US 40 signs based on their size!

      I did some research on I-70’s history across Ohio and have learned that 70 was built in segments, and the segments tended to dump directly onto 40, at least until it was complete across the state.  I haven’t found out yet how it all worked at this location.

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  4. Glad you stopped in time.

    I’m old enough that I remember as a child when the interstates were being built. I can remember road trips with my parents where you’d be on the interstate for a while and then off to the old highway. The detours they had probably would not be tolerated today. Often you had to get off on to a dirt track. I can remember more than once having to go through a small stream as part of a detour. Still the interstate were quite a wonder to people back then. For some reason even as a young person I still preferred the old roads.

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    • You’re right — no way would they detour people onto roads less than at least state highways today! My childhood happened in the 70s, by which time the Interstate system was substantially complete.

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