I never expected to become enthralled with an interstate highway, but if there is a better roadway in the Eisenhower interstate system than I-10, I have yet to put the metal to the pedal on it.
My favorite section of I-10 is the Florida portion, which I often engage on forays back to my native Mississippi. Another journey of approximately the same mileage is available from Fort Gaines to Eufaula, Union Springs and Montgomery via U.S. 82 and then U.S. 80 to Selma, Demopolis and Meridian where I connect with I-20/59 to Jackson.
But that route covers a lot of bad highway and frenzied, wild country with deer and other species running amok. Staying awake is a major undertaking and decent pit stops are practically non-existent.
I-10 is yet another story. It is somewhat of a hassle to reach the interstate from where we live in rural Southwest Georgia, due to the mandatory route through Dothan, but once that is negotiated, it is clear sailing on I-10 westward to Pensacola and Mobile.
The Florida Panhandle portion includes a state-run pit stop every 40 miles. Florida knows how to operate rest facilities, keeping them extraordinarily clean and security personnel are on the job 24/7. All have a walking track to stretch one’s weary driving legs. Florida also knows how to maintain highways — none of this rough bouncy-bouncy roadway that motorists will encounter in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
I’ve stated here before that the state of Alabama should be ashamed of the dreadful stretch of asphalt one must endure to almost anywhere in Mississippi other than its southwest corner. I am referring to the route from off I-65 in Mobile via U.S. 98 through the small Alabama towns of Semmes and Wilmer. The traffic then clears for the rest of the trip through Lucedale, Mississippi and on to Hattiesburg and points beyond.
There once was a plan by Alabama officials to bypass Semmes and Wilmer with a toll road that would save the average motorist at least an hour of drive time. The road bed had actually been started and is still evident in a remote area north and west of Mobile, I am told. The money ran out. There are no known plans now to complete it in this era of thin state budgets.
So, if you are indeed headed to Southwest Mississippi from Southwest Georgia, an alternative is to simply remain on I-10 through the Mobile River tunnel and remain westward on I-10 through Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis (get off there sometime and tour the museum at the dynamic John C. Stennis/NASA Space Center, open and free to the public).
As you enter Louisiana north of Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans, keep an eye out to connect with I-12 West through Mandeville, Covington and Hammond. Soon you’ll be accessing I-55 to complete your trip northward into Mississippi.
And thank the state and people of Florida for helping you to get there. They know how to run a highway.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.