How Terry Sanford greenlighted the Big Dig

“By 1987 Reagan found his control over Congress slipping….The Democratic majority in the House easily overrode his veto [of what would be the last interstate highway authorization], and the Senate did the same by a single vote.

“A hapless freshman senator from North Carolina [Terry Sanford] , who had opposed the bill because there wasn’t enough pork for his state, switched his vote after a phalanx of senators threatened to kill federal subsidies for tobacco farmers.

“In a curious way, then, those subsidies enabled Boston to transform its landscape with the most expensive interstate highway project in history [to be nicknamed the Big Dig].

— From Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life” by Tom Lewis (2013)


What!? Has he never visited South of the Border?

“This little guy [I-73] sees itself, someday — way over a unicorn-filled rainbow in the distant future — as a direct connection between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the South Carolina Coast. For now it’s the country’s least busy interstate, a wee 77-mile heart line to Andre the Giant’s last home in Ellerbe, North Carolina.”

— From “The U.S. Interstate Highways, Ranked” at MapQuest (Feb. 20)

Stipulating that “ranking the Lower 48’s two-digit, primary Interstates — 66 in all… is a subjective business,” Robert Reid takes into consideration not only “vehicle travel miles per mile of Interstate,” but also “the general joy of the ride as a whole.”

North Carolina’s Interstates fall in the middle of Reid’s pack, except for the one that no traveler of the coastal plain will be surprised to see ranked No. 66. (But that doesn’t mean it lacks excitement!)


Phillips Russell, advocate of roads less robotically traveled

“Not everyone was so enamored of the [Interstate highway] system’s unrelenting predictability. Critics had decried the sterile nature of high-speed roads since long before limited-access became a reality….

“Phillips Russell of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill Weekly wrote in 1930 that ‘as fast as improvements are perfected, highways constantly tend to become dull and uninteresting to travel over,’ lulling travelers into ‘a state of silent torpor, with no more animation than a box of hibernating terrapins.’ ”

— From “Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways” by Earl Swift (2011)

Phillips Russell was a year away from joining the faculty at UNC, where he first taught English, then journalism. I hadn’t realized — thank you, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography — that Russell helped popularize this still-useful  admonition to writers of slow-to-launch stories: “Bring on the bear.”