The Other Side of I-80

imageA few weeks ago I wrote about being rescued in Omaha by my brother who was kind enough to drive 2 ½ hours to fetch me from a hastily arranged backup airport. The ride from Omaha, NE to Ames, IA, actually I think the airport is in Council Bluffs, IA, was mainly across Interstate 80. I-80 in Iowa is kind of flat and fairly straight. Although it rolls along some gentle hills, you can see pretty far into the distance.

Once, when my brother was driving me to Omaha for an early morning flight, I asked if we were observing the sunrise as I saw an impressive glow in the distance. He quipped “no, here in Iowa the sun rises in the east” and explained that while we still had quite a lot of drive time remaining, I was seeing the lights of Omaha.

Last week, our daughter Faith and I picked up I-80 near Scranton,

I-80 West
Getting ready for the long leg.

PA about 1,200 miles east of Omaha, heading west toward Pittsburgh. As much as we like going to Pittsburgh, and as much as we like the flexibility, affordability and the luxury of packing anything you want when you drive to your destination, we hate I-80. I have made that trip dozens of times, and my wife has made it a few times. We all hate I-80. It is one tough road to drive.

Raod Ahead
This is one of the longest stretches of I-80 that is visible as you drive.

I-80 is a favorite truck route, so it’s usually busy with traffic even if you manage to miss rush hour near Scranton. Yes, Scranton has a rush hour just like the big cities. We generally time our travel to avoid the rush at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge over the Hudson. That means either leaving what I call early (before 6:00 am) or what Faith calls early (about 8:30 am). We usually sneak into the west side of the city, staying at the Fairfield Inn on Neville Island, so we don’t worry so much about Pittsburgh’s rush hour.

Chemical plant
Neville Island tourist attraction

The first time I took Faith to Pittsburgh, it was a last minute decision when she discovered that she had a week of vacation time to either use or lose. I checked for a hotel near where we were heading and found this Fairfield Inn. Faith’s reaction was: “ooh, an island!” Then I informed her that Neville Island is an industrial island sitting in the Ohio River. Not quite Hawaii.

Unlike I-80 in the Midwest, the Pennsylvania portion is characterized by hills and curves. Actually, let’s make that hills, curves and hills that curve. You can’t really ever see too much of the road ahead, it’s more like 280 1-mile squiggly segments. It even makes it hard to take pictures because you don’t see that great shot coming for miles. Also, it’s entirely possible that before you get to snap the shutter, you’ve turned or started down again. Finally, your field of view might get interrupted by a truck.

I-80 is a rolling truck stop.

There are a lot of trucks on I-80 in Iowa too, but there’s a difference in Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania has those hills – and those curves. I’m not sure truckers are any different in the east or the west, but those hills and curves bring out the DRIVE in truck driver. You can have a line of 6 trucks heading up a long hill at 55 mph when suddenly, one of them realizes that he can go 56, and he will start to pass the other five. So, you spend a lot of time following a truck while slowly passing a bunch of trucks. The only thing that can make that worse is rain.

Did I say the only thing?

I forgot the other thing that can and usually does make I-80 worse. Construction. I’ve been driving I-80 through Pennsylvania since 1975 and it. Has. Always. Been. Under. Construction. It’s just one of those roads that never seem to be finished. They are always repaving a lane, rebuilding a bridge, clearing a landslide or fixing a few hundred feet of guard rail that was removed during the winter by someone rolling too fast for conditions.

The almost comical thing about all the roads in Pennsylvania is the signage. Some politician’s family must be in the sign business in that state, because there are tons of road signs. Our favorites are the “Bridge Ices Before Road” and “Bridge May Be Icy” signs. In CT, we might see one of these every now and then. In PA, you will see one before EVERY bridge, but it’s hard to tell when they choose one expression over the other. Personally, I like “Bridge May Be Icy” and I like it better than the expression they use in CT “Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface.” Warning signs shouldn’t take too long to read and they shouldn’t require any thought. I know what “Icy” means without thinking about it.

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Most of the pictures are mine. You can click on them to see a larger version and read a little description. The picture of the chemical plant is one that Faith took while driving around Neville Island.

28 thoughts on “The Other Side of I-80

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    1. Thanks Audrey. I drove I-80 most of the way from New York City to Portland back in 1978 and PA was some of the most interesting sections. Although it was harvest time in Nebraska so we got to see some amazing equipment being put to work.


  1. Couple of things I want to say – First, its a great post. You have a talent that I would like to imbibe in my writings in the future. It’s tough to do that, but I am working hard at picking up some of your styles. If I ever succeed you’ll find that when you read some of my future posts. Second, the pictures are super-awesome. I’ve always been passionate about the roads outside India. Not that there are no good quality roads in India, but at least not in Mumbai and most part of my state (Maharashtra). Ask any person living in Mumbai or Maharashtra and he/she would do anything to drive on such good quality road. Roads here are full of potholes, the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai which is the richest Municipal Corporation in the country can’t fix road issues since Independence (1947). There is a saying here in Mumbai – There’s no pothole on the road, its the road that is built in the pothole.


    1. Thanks for the comments about my writing and the pictures. Your pictures from the road look great and it’s hard to see the road condition. The comment about potholes is funny but I guess not if you live there. We are influencing each other because I was never one to put do many pictures in a post. I’ve seen through your blog that you can write around a series of pictures. By the way, when I was growing up, Pittsburgh was known as the pothole capital of the world :)


  2. So funny, Dan! I wonder what you’d think of our narrow, windy, and hilly roads – not to mention the very real likelihood of coming across cattle or sheep on some of the country roads. In those situations the rule is “give way to the animals and do as the farmer says!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you get off the highway in Pennsylvania Jill, those are the kinds of roads you’re likely to encounter. It’s one of the reasons we stay on the road. Although, I’ve never ran into much in the way of animal traffic, that would be interesting. The scariest driving (well, riding) was in England when my friend took me to some off-the-beaten-path tourist attractions. The narrow lanes between hedgerows were quite a trip. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The colors in PA in the fall are lovely. I-80 sounds exactly like our I-5. It’s the fastest north/south route getting from one end of the state to the other. Because it’s the fastest most the truckers use that route along with most everyone else. You’ll be cruising along when a trucker not wanting to lose momentum (read speed) changes lanes causing everyone behind him to slam on their breaks. Or you get the person that drives 85mph zooms past you only to be brought up short by the semi in his slow lane, so he/she pushes their way into the fast lane causing everyone behind him to slam on their brakes. That gets old really quick. I detest that freeway!

    Our son lives in So. CA so if taking I-5 we leave at o’dark thirty to miss most of that nonsense, but the last few years we’ve taken the longer route US101. There are a lot less people driving it, and very few truckers making it a more enjoyable drive even if it is a bit longer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In 1979, I made a trip down the coast highway from Seattle to San Diego and then we booked back up I-5. I can only imagine how much the traffic has increased in 35 years. We’ve often jumped off the highway or taken an alternate route but the “back roads” in PA are often slow-going. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I wanted to respond last night, but I got squeezed between two semis in the passing lane and missed my exit.

    Great post. Semis and construction – that’s I-80. My only bone of contention – you sorta dissed Iowa, and I think Iowa is the prettiest of all the plains states. C’mon it’s got HILLS compared to, say, Nebraska. I have more to say about Iowa. Some day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would take Iowa over Kansas or Nebraska and it was certainly good to see the Welcome to Iowa sign whenever we drover there from Pittsburgh. It is pretty and I am amazed at the farms. I took pictures of Pennsylvania corn fields and they just don’t compare. I can’t imagine an Iowa farmer bothering to start his tractor there. Thanks for the comment.


    1. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment Amanda. As far as I can tell, I-80 has been under construction for 39 years. There were some years that I didn’t drive on it, but every time I’ve been on it, there has been some construction. And let’s not talk about I-81 :)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know all of that highway but have been on the part in IA that leads out o NE. That’s some desolate country. The best thing about Nebraska is my boys living there! Great photos. Looks like you all have had some really fun road trips though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If that’s the case, I feel for you Peter. The good news for us is that there we are starting to see alternatives in Pennsylvania. We can’t avoid I-80, but we can spend less time on it. The bad news is that some of those roads are very similar.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re normally very prompt with your replies, Dan (unlike me), but this must be one of the rare ones that fell through the cracks. So I’ll do the honors: “Thanks, Paul! This could be the best reply I’ve ever received. Great to hear from the guy running the best blog on WordPress!” ;D

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow – Paul, I’m so sorry. The thing is, I remember reading this comment. I’m going to go with “I wrote an awesome response but I was using my iPhone and it never got published.” Then again, your reply to yourself isn’t bad.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha! Dan, the funny thing is, I have NO room to talk. I’ve gotten much better, but there have been times when I have answered a comment after a YEAR or more. I wish I was exaggerating, but it’s true! You, by contrast, are very prompt and considerate. Hence my joke!


  6. I also HATE I-80. But like Paul above, it is more because of the heavy truck traffic than the road itself. Some sections cut through beautiful land. The trucks, though, make it hard to enjoy. I have nothing against truckers since my dad was one. Yet the passing you are describing in your post makes me nervous if not crazy. I love road trips and sometimes you’ve got to use I-80, but my husband and I try to avoid it as much as possible.
    The “Bridge Freezes Before Road” is also a very frequent sign in Maine. I’ve seen it in Florida and it made me smile because it must be pretty rare.
    P.S. I love it when Faith believed that there was an island in Neville Island when she was little. My son believes he would see Quasimodo at Notre Dame when I took him there the first time.
    P.S.#2 Great pictures.


    1. Thanks Evelyne. I figured that you had some experience with I-80 given your “commute.” It does go through some beautiful country but it can be a grind. Especially in winter. Thanks for your continued support, it means a lot to me.


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