US 20: Life on a major highway (1#)

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN 

Sometimes it gets quiet in downtown Fayette, but you might have to pay attention or it could take you by surprise.

Every now and then it happens. There’s not a truck in sight, neither from the east nor the west. Not a single car is making its way down Main Street. Nothing is heading toward the stoplight along Fayette Street.

Furrow the brow a little and strain your ear, turning this way and that. It’s absolutely quiet. It’s a village of 1,340 people. It sounds like a small town in rural America.

And then it’s gone. Once again it’s back to normal, back to life on a major cross-country highway.

truck-2.cropped US 20 stretches from Boston, Mass., on the Atlantic coast all across America to Newport, Ore., at the edge of the Pacific. The highway lays a path across 11 states, traveling through the Berkshires of Massachusetts, across the Finger Lakes of New York, through Cleveland and the suburbs of Chicago and on across the Mississippi.

The road passes through the fossil beds and grasslands of Nebraska, leading into the plateaus of Wyoming before jogging north to lead the way through Yellowstone and on to Idaho’s Craters of the Moon. Finally, the dry desert of Oregon appears, before climbing the Cascade Mountains and rushing down through hilly farmland to the ocean.

There’s a flow of life along this road that brings an enormous amount of traffic through every village on its path. About a third of the way west in the rich farm country of northwestern Ohio lies Fayette, and heavy traffic that seldom lets up is an everyday fact of life.

An average day brings eight vehicles a minute through the intersection of US 20 and State Route 66. During daylight hours, about 480 cars and trucks pass by every 60 minutes.

At that pace, there are 80,000 in a week, four million in a year—but wait, the flow slows at night.

Maybe there are only two vehicles a minute at 2 a.m. Perhaps the 24-hour average slips to five a minute, and the daily average shrinks to 7,200. An accurate count might show closer to 2.6 million cars, trucks and motorcycles through the course of a year.

No matter how you look at it, US 20 provides a distinct color to life for those living along its edges. It’s noisy, it’s a little dirty, and it can be fascinating to watch what passes by.

- Feb. 25, 2004 
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