Long Island native Steve Anderson has been running a site about New York area highways for almost nine years. His thorough research has set the standard among “road geek” sites and made him a media go-to guy when it comes to highways.
In the early part of the century, Anderson expanded extended his reach to Philadelphia and Boston. Now, he is heading south down I-95 with dcroads.net, completing his coverage of highways in the northeastern megalopolis.
dcroads.net is still under construction, but is scheduled to formally debut on New Year’s Day 2006.
Q: What initially motivated you to get started on NYC roads?
A: In September 1996, I began my first web page on Geocities, which you could call an early blog-type site. At this time, I came across David Steinberg’s Interstate highway site (at ihoz.com). I wrote an entry in his guestbook, confessing that I was a bit of a “road geek” (arguably the first documented use of that word). When I saw Scott Oglesby’s site (kurumi.com) on three-digit Interstate highways and Connecticut roads, the writing was on the wall: I had to follow up with my own site.
Although I do not work in the field, I’ve always considered myself an expert in the area of highways, bridges, and tunnels. My interest began at a young age, and I must say I was privileged to have grown up on Long Island, where many of the works of master planner Robert Moses — notably the state parks and the parkways leading to them — were built. When I was ten years old, about a year and a half before he died, I received an 8″x10″ autographed photo from Moses. When he finally passed away in 1981 at the age of 92, I saved every newspaper clipping from the New York Times and Newsday.
I launched my New York-area web site on a free site on June 1, 1997. As both traffic and content grew phenomenally — at one point, I had my content on several different free web sitse — I moved the site to its own unified domain — nycroads.com — in March 1999. Philadelphia (phillyroads.com) was launched in 2000, and Boston (bostonroads.com) followed in 2001.
Q: You are now adding a D.C. area highways site; given the number of sites already dedicated to D.C. area roads, what will make your site notable?
A: What I want to achieve with dcroads.net is providing a seamless research site for highways, bridges, and tunnels from Boston to Washington. I think the emphasis on history — particularly individual histories of unbuilt roads and bridges — has been the strong suit of nycroads.com, phillyroads.com, and bostonroads.com, and I think this will be the case for dcroads.net. Like other metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the DC area has plenty of highways (both built and unbuilt) that have picqued my interest.
Q. How long has dcroads.net been in the works?
A: Active research on dcroads.net began in July 2004. Because of personal obligations, I have not been able to come out with the site sooner. Even at launch time, I will have only a few pages completed, but many more will come during 2006.
Q. What kind of sources do you use for your highway profiles?
A: I use primarily a mix of historical planning reports and old newspaper clippings. Occasionally, engineers and planners who have worked on projects, as well as the journalists who covered them, will submit information and photos to me.
Q. How much time have you spent driving around the D.C. region?
A: I have been driving around the Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis area since 1988. Two of my brothers have lived in the DC area over the years, so I have done lots of driving. Needless to say, there have been quite a few changes since I started driving in the area.
Q: You are including Baltimore as part of dcroads.net. Will you include other parts of Maryland like the Eastern Shore, or parts of Virginia like Richmond and Hampton Roads?
A: I may cover a couple of highways on the Eastern Shore like the Ocean City Expressway (MD 90), but there isn’t much to cover there.
However, I do not plan to venture further south of Northern Virginia at the present time as I admit my knowledge base in the southern part of the state is not as strong as in the DC area. But never say never…
Q. Is there a “master builder” of Washington area infrastructure comparable with New York’s Robert Moses?
A: In the cities I cover, there is no single “master planner” who comes close to Robert Moses. I think the closest larger-than-life figure would be William Callahan, who oversaw the early development of Boston’s expressway system, but even his power was limited compared to that of Moses.
Q. Did Moses play any role in D.C. highways?
A: Not in DC, but in Baltimore Moses played a significant role in the early development of that city’s expressway system. In 1944, Moses spearheaded plans for the highway network in Baltimore.
Q. On you current sites you sometimes make suggestions for improving highways or bridges. Will you be recommending a solution for the I-66 inside-the-Beltway?
A: I think it could be done, but the HOV restrictions would need to be maintained. This siutation is similar to I-476 in Pennsylvania which is now completely congested. Both roads were on the planning maps for a long-time and ultimately built to half their initial capacity. Transportation officials up there are trying to widen it too.
Keep in mind that the interstates were designed to handle traffic loads 20-25 years in the future. It has been twenty-five years and I-66 has met it’s design limits.
I would be open to HO/T if studies showed construction would support it. With an HO/T situation it could finance the construction since in theory you would have a dedicated funding source.
I’ll have to study this more in depth, but I’d like to see a tolled or HO/T (tolled for single occupancy, no toll for HOV) I-66 tunnel underneath DC from its current end east to US 50/New York Avenue. However, as much as I would like to see an extended I-66 through DC into Maryland, I think the opportunity for building urban highways may have passed, especially with the added complication of building underneath Metro lines in addition to utility and sewer lines.
Q. Another hot button issue is the Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown. What suggestions do you have for that road?
A: I think it should be kept as is. Tearing down the Whitehurst Freeway would make conditions along an already congested M Street even worse. I’ve even seen a recommendation that M Street be widened. You would destroy retail down that stretch during and after construction.
Q. In the 1970s, D.C. traded in most of their highway funds for mass-transit. What is your take on that decision?
A: I agree with that decision. Some of the planned freeways were not needed in my opinion, and the trade-in has reaped some wonderful dividends for the DC metro area, both in terms of transporting people and promoting economic development. Because of its city’s density, Metro has been one of the few mass transit success stories.
Q. Would you like to see some of the highways which were cancelled looked at again?
A: In addition to an extended I-66 that I mentioned earlier, I would like to see I-395 extended north from its current terminus to meet the current I-95/I-495 interchange near College Park. Much of that highway could be built along the existing PEPCO right-of-way, thereby minimizing disruption.
Q. How does the condition of D.C. area highways compare with other eastern cities?
I think they probably about as congested as they are anywhere else in the Northeast. However, I think the highways in Maryland and Virginia are better maintained than those further north, if only because of the milder winters in the area.
Q. What is your favorite D.C. area road?
A: The Capital Beltway (I-495/I-95). It’s the one I’m most familiar with.
Q. Least favorite?
A: The northerly (DC 295) stretch of the Anacostia Freeway. It’s about as unsightly as the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95).
Q. Does new highway capacity induce demand?
A: That point can be argued; however, I have found that demand often is induced even without the presence of highways, particularly here in the Northeast where land is scarce.
Q. What are your thoughts on toll roads being leased?
A: I think this phenomenon likely will expand. It’s a common occurence overseas, and here in North America, a Spanish company (Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte) operates the Chicago Skyway and Highway 407 (in the northern suburbs of Toronto).
Q. How about High Occupancy Toll lanes?
A: The toll aspect of HO/T lanes could expedite construction of a needed project that could take a decade or more to build, so I’m open to the concept.
Q. Are the sites simply a personal project or have you turned them into a company?
A: When I started the road sites back in 1997, I did it just for the love of highways, bridges, and tunnels without any idea of how big the sites would become. This endeavor only recently become a small company.
Q. You have advertising on the sites, are they profitable?
I only took on advertising in 2002 following the sustained spike in traffic following 9/11 (I had over 400,000 visitors on nycroads.com on that day alone!). The advertising helps pay for server space, bandwidth, and all other things associated with the sites. I maintain strict quality control on the advertisers who show ads on my sites, and do not allow ads that an average visitor would find objectionable.
Full disclosure: I have contributed to nycroads.com and phillyroads.com.