SCOTT SIMON, host:
Say I-95, and millions of Americans immediately get an image - if only red tail lights winking into your family's car on a crowded commute home. For many, I-95 calls up happy recollections of the road you hit for a long haul to the beach and back.
All along the eastern seaboard, Interstate 95 has helped shape the daily lives and vacation dreams of the roughly 100 million people who reside alongside it. They live in dense cities and rural counties in the 15 states through which I-95 passes on its north-south path.
The traffic peaks in August. So beginning today, continuing for the next two weekends, NPR will take a closer look at this great river of traffic in a series we're calling "I-95: The Road Most Traveled."
NPR's senior business editor, Marilyn Geewax, is here to tell us more. Marilyn, thanks for being with us.
MARILYN GEEWAX: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: I-95 has been around a long time. So why a series?
GEEWAX: Scott, I happened to see this article that was saying after all these years and years of delay, construction's finally going to start in September on this part that's called the missing link of I-95. It's a short stretch where I-95 was never completed around Trenton, New Jersey.
And in theory, I-95 should be this unbroken highway that goes from Maine all the way down to Miami. But its not; it's got this gap. So we're going to talk about that missing link in a piece that's coming up in just a few moments.
SIMON: And what makes I-95 distinctive compared with other interstates around the country?
GEEWAX: Well, it's really a key transportation link for the whole East Coast, and this is the most densely populated part of the country, and it's also sort of the most historic. The original 13 colonies are included on this road, and it passes through more states than any other interstate in the country.
The Department of Transportation says it gets VMTs - that's vehicle miles traveled - more than any other road in the country each year. It's our infrastructure workhorse. And it allows us to get to our jobs; takes our exports over to ships; and maybe the most important thing is, it get our little bodies out onto the beach to get a tan this time of year.
SIMON: Tell us about what you've got coming up.
GEEWAX: Well, after today's report on that missing link, we've got Kathy Lohr coming up, reporter in Georgia, who's spent some time talking to the officials there who say they have spent a fortune expanding I-95 to accommodate all that freight traffic that's now coming in through the port of Savannah.
This has really transformed the economy in South Georgia because it's made that part of the world - really, a global link where exports and imports come in and out.
And then next weekend, we're going to head down to South Florida and up to Maine. Of course, Florida and Maine are two very different states, but they both depend very heavily on I-95 to deliver tourists and create jobs.
SIMON: Speaking of tourists - and jobs, for that matter - Labor Day weekend will find plenty of tourists on I-95. But there's another type of motorist who doesn't get a break on the holiday. We're going to hear more about them, too.
GEEWAX: Right. We're going to end this series on Labor Day weekend by learning more about the migrant workers who drive up and down I-95 all the time. They follow the crops that have to be picked along the eastern seaboard. In our very last piece, we'll talk to transportation futurists who offer some suggestions for how to keep traffic flowing on what is already a very over-crowded road.
You know, we use our interstates for all kinds of short jaunts. You know, you might get on I-95 just to run up to the mall, or to get to your office, whatever. But these things were really intended to be interstates. You're supposed to be able to drive quickly from one state to another - not just run to the mall. But if we want to preserve that interstate system, we're going to have to get a lot more creative about how we increase the capacity.
SIMON: NPR's senior business editor, Marilyn Geewax. Thanks so much.
GEEWAX: Oh, you're welcome, Scott.
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