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  1. Opinion

Joe Henderson: With chaos the norm on Interstate 4, back roads are looking more inviting

Traffic is seen along the westbound side of Interstate 4 in the Champions Gate area Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.
Traffic is seen along the westbound side of Interstate 4 in the Champions Gate area Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.
Published May 24, 2018

In the past couple of months, I have had to travel about 25 miles from the bucolic burg of Brandon to Lakeland several times.

I take Interstate 4 because it is the most direct route.

I may have to rethink that strategy, though, especially with Memorial Day weekend upon us.

That means more cars, more distracted drivers, and more chance of winding up like the FedEx driver did Tuesday when his truck blew a tire on that cursed asphalt and flipped over near the state fairgrounds.

The driver died.

I hate that road, and it is getting worse.

If it's not someone from Michigan doing 45 miles an hour in the left-hand lane, it's a maniac storming up on my back bumper, apparently incensed that I won't plow directly into the car in front of me and move it out of the way.

Or, it's long-haul truckers who decide they're veering into your lane with no notice because they can.

Or, my personal favorite, an out-of-state driver in a car with Disney bumper stickers that zooms past me, then cuts in front and immediately slows his speed by half.

Did I mention I hate I-4?

We all have seen studies that show that 132-mile-long hazardous trail is the most dangerous highway in the country.

According to EverDrive, it averages 1.41 fatalities per mile. Anyone who has driven that road probably has a tale about being stuck in a three-mile long backup because of a wreck. This has been going on for a while.

Are we even surprised any more when something like that happens?

I generally am not a white-knuckle driver. I have driven on Los Angeles freeways, and through traffic in New York City and Boston. I have challenged Atlanta's notorious highway system and won.

I've driven along I-95 in Miami many times and came through no worse for the experience.

But I'm seriously considering taking back roads for those trips to Lakeland because while driving on I-4 has always been an adventure, now you're just pushing your luck.

Remember the 70-car pileup on I-4 near Polk City in 2008? Four people died in that wreck and 38 more were injured.

EverDrive also reported that Florida drivers are addicted to their phones. We rank second worst nationally for using the phone while driving, but that doesn't seem to bother your Florida Legislature.

Lawmakers keep rebuffing attempts to join the civilized world and make texting while driving a primary offense. That would allow police to pull over a driver they spot with their hands and eyes on their phones instead of their driving.

We've all seen those drivers, right?

On a trip to Lakeland, it's not unusual to see two or three cars straddling multiple lanes or weaving back and forth as the driver carries on a conversation with their fingers.

Dangerous? Ya think?

Personal liberty trumps public safety, I guess.

Recently, Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton reminded readers that in one of his first acts as Florida's governor, Rick Scott killed plans to build a high-speed rail route from Tampa to Orlando along I-4.

It's good to remember things like that. The main way to improve that bleeping road is reduce the number of cars on it.

A redesign wouldn't hurt, either.

Near where the FedEx truck crashed there is a loop off U.S. 301 that funnels cars around to a road that leads to an entrance for Interstate You-Know-What.

While you're trying to get over to the left to get on the Interstate, other cars are zooming past your bumper, headed to a ramp for U.S. 301 on your right that comes up too fast.

It's always a thrill ride, especially at night in the rain.

Did I mention I hate I-4?

See you on the back roads.

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