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South Florida Follies: I-95, Asphalt Addiction and Endless War

I-95 in South Florida is America's most dangerous highway. That's pretty well known. Why?

Sure, it's the only major north-south highway in an overbuilt, unsustainable megalapolis, driven daily by the aged, the undereducated and the uncouth. But the cause lies even deeper than that, at the core of the Flori-duh mentality, where a wo/man's car is his/her castle, s/he who dies with the most toys wins, and yes, I do own the road. Privilege, in other words, or the illusion of it, for those trapped in the rat race.

It figures. The whole region has been a shill and a con right from the start, from the birth of its current incarnation in the 1920s, when land sale scams brought the suckers in from all across the nation, up through the years after World War II, when air conditioning made it possible for white flight to go wide, and refugees from the big cities of the north tired of suburban tract housing in the snow.

It's no wonder we look like New Jersey with palm trees, a blasted heath of gated communities, strip malls, and big-box stores. Joni Mitchell's lament about paving paradise to put up a parking lot was never truer. (And it's no coincidence that one of the richest, most powerful men in the county is the guy who made a fortune paving the place.)

Though even the idea that this is some kind of paradise -- which we hear local boosters claim all the time -- never made the least bit of sense. It's a sweltering swamp under constant threat of meteorological disaster most of the year and crammed with tourists during the few months fit for human habitation.

The out-of-townies wouldn't be that bad except that they're additional plaque in the asphalt arteries. And it's impossible to function here without traveling those roads, using the one thing that's doing more than any other to seal our collective doom, the automobile and the internal combustion engine.

The unending stream of single passengers encased in petrol-burning tons of steel translates into a carbon footprint big as the sky, every passenger mile bringing us one step closer to the superstorm that's going to trash the oceanfront condos and put the rest of us underwater.

There are transportation alternatives, and a few brave souls who have the grit to use them. (Former Broward-Palm Beach New Times editor Tony Ortega used to commute from his West Palm Beach home to work in Fort Lauderdale taking his bicycle via Tri-Rail, G-d bless him.) And local planners constantly harp on the need to develop mass transit. But it ain't happening. Just getting a bike lane in place along A1A was an ugly political battle, and automobile drivers still hold a murderous resentment of the cyclists.

And the threat reaches further afield. If you live in certain parts of the world, where our energy-sucking way-of-life leads us into entanglements, the bloody shit really hits the fan. The road to Iraq, Afghanistan and, now, Algeria, is the same road that takes you to the mall.

Fire Ant--an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite--covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected].

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