Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California's New Exit Strategy - Driving by Number ; the Existential Angst of Finding Yourself in the Golden State: Is There Any There There If Cucamonga Becomes Exit 121?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California's New Exit Strategy - Driving by Number ; the Existential Angst of Finding Yourself in the Golden State: Is There Any There There If Cucamonga Becomes Exit 121?

Article excerpt

This is a good news story for the thousands of Americans who come to California to find themselves - but then find themselves getting lost.

It's for road weary California-freeway drivers who ask for directions to the correct exit - only to be told, unceremoniously, where to get off.

It's for once-loving local families, who are bickering over crumpled California road maps, squinting under 10-watt, glove- compartment light bulbs, and debating the existential conundrum, "Are we there yet?"

This is a story about the last state in the union to number its freeway signs.

California has decided to join the rest of the nation in numbering exits on freeways and Interstates. The rest of the country did this in 1950, but the Golden State has postponed the process on account of funding constraints.

The state has long valued some of its free-form rudderlessness - a kind of rainbow's end libertarianism that attracts seekers, often with chapped, hitchhiker thumbs. It also values the school of thought that resists eclipsing the beauty of the verbal - names such as Ventura, Carmel - in exchange for the clinical dryness of the digit.

But not wanting to get too far lost in the rearview mirror of modern convenience, the state begins embracing its new exit strategy this month.

"This will finally get this state up to snuff with the rest of America," says Jeff Spring of the Auto Club of Southern California.

"It's simply a matter of convenience and safety. Too many people were swerving at the last minute to get off at freeway exits they couldn't find until the last minute."

The plan will cost $30 million, with exit numbers ascending from zero at the Mexican border (for north/south freeways) and also ascending from zero at the Pacific Ocean (for freeways running east and west.) The process will take three years and include 23,000 signs at 5,800 exits on 92 highways.

The idea is simple: All exits will be numbered, in order, with roughly the same digits as the number of miles that the particular exit is from the starting point.

Gone (allegedly) will be the confusion of outsiders confronted by an onslaught of similar sounding names (Mendocino, Montecito, Monterey, Monterrey Park). …

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