A few years ago, I had the joy of visiting the western end of US Route 6. There’s a big green sign in Bishop, California, proclaiming the 3,205 mile distance to Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s a bookend for a similar sign in Provincetown, an invitation to cross the continent on our nation’s second longest highway.
It’s a shame that Professor Peter Ubertaccio can’t see the glory of this beautiful transcontinental road, and views it merely as a constipated local road centered on a small stretch from Sandwich to the Sagamore Bridge. It’s a shame to think of this great road in purely parochial terms, limited to the world east of the Cape Cod Canal.
Federal regulations require exit numbers to correspond to mile markers on the nation’s highways. Most states have moved to comply with these rules, but Massachusetts has stubbornly dragged its feet. Massachusetts is the most highly educated state in the nation, and if Maine and Pennsylvania could convert its exit numbers without imposing cognitive trauma on its drivers, we should be able to accomplish this feat.
If the good professor wanders west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, he would see some of the problems with sequential exit numbers. He would see that new exits were sandwiched between the original sequential exits, creating exits 10A and 11A. Once he passes exit 3, he would know exit 2 is the next exit, but he will need to drive 30 miles before he reaches it.
The new exit numbers on US 6 correspond to those little green mile markers on the highway, in which Mile 0 is at the Rhode Island state line. The eastern end of the Sagamore Bridge is at mile marker 55, and a little mental math can benchmark your place on the highway. If you also remember that the Orleans rotary is at mile marker 91, and mile marker 115 is in Provincetown, you can look at the new exit numbers and the mile markers to triangulate your position on US 6.
The esteemed professor wonders, “How does one get to an exit 89 when travelling down Rt. 6 from the Sagamore bridge?” Easy. Cross the bridge and drive 34 miles because 89-55=34.
There is a happy coincidence that the distance from the Sagamore Bridge to the Rhode Island state line is equal to the distance from the bridge to downtown Boston. Our friend at exit 89 has the good fortune to know they are 89 miles from Rhode Island and 89 miles from Haymarket Square.
I hope Professor Ubertaccio will find joy in the new exit numbers, and he will have fun with the geographical mathematics infused in the new system. Even if he never comes to love the new numbers, I hope he can view the new numbers through the lens of altruism, as out-of-state visitors will be able to navigate US 6 with the system in use in the rest of the nation. And if that’s too confusing, he can always travel south on Route 28 from Falmouth to Orleans.