I'm a big consumer of the country's interstate system...I think it's officially the Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate System, recognizing that president's role in its creation. Regardless of its name, I've tended to use the interstate. Alot. Not only is it the most reasonable way to drive 1000 miles to Kentucky when visiting family, it's also one of the fastest ways for both R and I to get to work, albeit it in opposite directions. The tough part is that here in Massachusetts, the interstate we need to use has a toll on it in both directions. Incidentally, R and I both pay the same toll rate at different exits in different directions. But whatever.
The other day I was looking up some information on the automated toll system you can use (instead of paying cash you have a transponder and it automatically deducts from your account...and then deducts from your bank account when the balance gets low). Neither R nor I use this system, partially because we've never gotten around to getting the transponder, but I don't really like the idea of the state of Massachusetts taking money out of my bank account when the balance gets low...given my current financial situation (which plays into this post alot), that could have some overdraft consequences that I don't really want to think about.
What I found most interesting is that there is a state commuter tax deduction for those who use this transponder and commute to work, which both R and I do. As I was reading through the information on the deduction, I stopped and asked R how much he spends on tolls per year. He said about 550. Not five dollars and fifty cents, mind you, but five hundred and fifty dollars. I realized that by the end of this year I would have spent roughly the same. Whoa.
Let's do the math. My toll, if I take the interstate (which actually only takes me halfway to work, as the other half is on state highways), I pay 1.10 each way. If I'm going to UConn, it's .65 each way. Let's say I go to UConn 4 days a week, and Amherst 2...that comes to 9.60/week in tolls. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I make this drive 52 weeks a year (which takes into account the fact that during school vacation I'll probably head into Amherst more often, where the toll is higher), I'd be paying 499.20 in tolls. Per year. Or to put it in a monthly perspective, that's 38.40/month. I don't know about you all, but for me that's a huge impact on my budget. I'm sure once school starts the impact would be less huge, but regardless of how much it hurts to pay that amount (or not, if you have a lot of money), 38.40/month, or 499.20 a year is a huge amount of money! That's part of a vacation right there! Or lots of good beer! Or many other things!
With that in mind, I've decided to stop taking the MassPike as much as possible. I don't want to spend that money on road improvements I never see (I will hand it to the state of New York, though, when I had to drive through the thruway crazy snow to my grandmother's funeral, those roads were incredibly clear and well-maintained. I didn't feel bad paying the money then).
But then I got to thinking of the other benefits to staying off the interstate. I don't have to deal with crazy numbers of semis-this is especially great considering the time I was run off the road by a semi into the emergency lane during the rain. This doesn't mean they're not on the state highways (they are), but chances that they'll be passing me and such are much more slim. Also, Massachusetts is a beautiful state. The state highways to work take me through really gorgeous scenery, and I can breathe in the summer air and just think. Not to mention that going slower is better on gas. I felt less harried when I get to work having taken a state highway route this morning, and it was nice. I hate trucks passing me mostly because I don't have AC so all four windows are rolled down and the trucks are so loud I have to cover that ear when they pass. This isn't really a problem on the state roads. I also get to experience seeing all sorts of random places along the road, such as new ice cream stands or farms or trails. I wouldn't see these things on the interstate. Oh and in the summer, traffic on Sundays heading home from work is pretty awful, usually slowing down to a standstill at points due to all of the folks coming back from their summer homes or whatever. The state highways tend to be less clogged.
The downsides are there, to be sure. It takes a bit longer-about 25 minutes more each way, which turns into 50 minutes total. That's a pretty decent chunk of time, but it's time I can spend in prayer, or just thinking, or singing along to the music, and enjoying God's creation. I'm less likely to do that when I'm dealing with interstate traffic.
So yeah. I'm sure there will be times when it's hard not to take the interstate, or times when I can't avoid it (I'll likely take the state highway halfway to UConn and then pickup the non-toll interstate when it begins), but for the most part I'm going to try to make a conscientious effort to stick to the highways, and bypass the interstate.
It's more interesting anyway.