December 16, 2011

A Quarter of the Way

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *
I am not sure why I am so fascinated with our national highway system. Maybe it is because I spend a lot time riding on roads so bumpy and full of potholes that they could be used for batch testing Fixodent. So, yes, I do appreciate being able to drive in a straight line and to make it out of second gear. In Haiti, the only time you get to go fast and straight is down the tarmac on takeoff.    

I also appreciate the foresight demonstrated by those who persuaded our nation to invest in our national highways. President Eisenhower usually gets the credit for the initial vision of a country-wide, fully integrated interstate system. But, it took the commitment of everyone from shovel pushers to high level cabinet members to make it a reality. Our interstates are a testament to the quality and strength of our national character.

This broader appreciation for our interstate system is also inspired by my experience in Haiti. The dearth and poor condition of Haiti’s roads hampers the country’s development by slowing work, increasing diesel consumption, and damaging transportation equipment—not to mention the human toll. It is not just a pain to have to navigate Haiti’s potholed, antiquated roads—it is costly.  

It is a simple fact that serviceable roads are an integral part of a working country. As proof: the Dominican Republic has highways, interchanges and overpasses. Although it had a similar GDP to Haiti fifty years ago, the DR today has nearly ten times the GDP of its island partner. Surely there is a bit of chicken-and-egg here, but the roads, at least the major arteries, likely came first. Roads are the connectors of businesses; they are vitally important to economic growth.

My most recent major highway trip was 557 miles of I-10 which is about one quarter of its length. I-10 is one of three complete coast to coast routes. Its 2,460 miles make it the fourth longest road in the US, right behind I-40. It intersects nine out of ten the north-south interstates. The most remarkable portions of I-10 are the eerily vacant 900 miles that lie within the borders of Texas and the raised sections traveling through the swamp areas of Florida, Alabama and Louisiana.   

With three-quarters of our kids in tow, we made the drive from Jacksonville, FL to New Orleans in good time. It is a pleasant, uncongested trip along the bottom of the nation. Many people find the unbroken stands of pine trees which line the sides of I-10 a bit monotonous; not me. Sixteen years in Haiti, which has been ruinously deforested since the early 1900s, makes me appreciate every tree I see.

The trip finished with an amazing sight as we came into view of the Big Easy. The colors of the sunset reflected off the intermittent open pools of water under the elevated portions of the road. I was not prepared for the majestic feel of cruising above swamps and heading into the history of New Orleans. It was more ominous than I expected.      

Turning on to I-10 in Jacksonville with the only option to go west, I had a thought: What would it be like to drive the whole interstate system? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to boast of having seen every mile of the nearly 47,000 it encompasses and all the cities it connects? Immediately, I began to sing quietly to myself: Get your motor runnin, head out on the highway. First miles of highways are always Sybil-like for the inspired traveler.

Before rationality could take over, I mentally took the challenge. I even devised a strategy. Having already driven I-95 and I-90 end to end, I will first complete all the coast-to-coast and border-to-border routes. That means two more east-west crossings and six more north-south trips for a total of around 26,000 miles. No problem. As the song goes, I am looking forward to whatever comes my way.
Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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