Editorial: Exit common sense

Posted 8/10/22

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) will soon re-number all the exits on Interstate 95, marking the end of an era — the era of common sense.

Unlike a rim-rattling pothole, …

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Editorial: Exit common sense


The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) will soon re-number all the exits on Interstate 95, marking the end of an era — the era of common sense.

Unlike a rim-rattling pothole, this annoyance cannot be blamed on DOT. This injustice comes straight from Washington, D.C.

The Federal Highway Administration requires every state to conform to a new exit numbering system, keyed to mile markers. (Technically, the feds did not demand every state change their exit numbers; but they tied future highway funding to compliance, so the choice was either adopt the new system or kiss goodbye to millions of dollars for roads and bridges.)

To its credit, Rhode Island is one of the last states in America to comply with the mandate, but the end is coming soon.

There are two stated reasons for the new system, which identifies exits by how many miles they are located from the border of the state. First, it allegedly helps drivers get a clear sense of how long they must drive to reach an exit or how long they must travel between exits. This sounds like a whole heap of hogwash.

An overwhelming majority of the motoring public no longer uses maps or “directions” to navigate anywhere, including the corner grocery store. Their phones, or in many cases, their cars, tell them where to drive, which lane to choose, how fast to drive, when they will arrive, and how far until the next exit. Why are new exit numbers necessary to reinforce what GPS-enabled devices have been doing for years?

The second explanation for the new system is to create an easier method for introducing new exits into the highway system. This rationale has a modicum of merit. It’s always been difficult to squeeze a new number between exits when they are numbered sequentially. However, when was the last time Rhode Island added a new exit to its major highways? The system hasn’t changed much in decades.

When it appears soon — literally overnight — the new exit system in Rhode Island is going to feel downright weird, silly and confusing. The beloved Exit 20 in Providence — the route bringing millions of motorists onto I-195, to the East Side of Providence, the East Bay and eventually the Cape — will soon become Exit 36A.

Heading to T.F. Green (or is it Providence?) Airport? Say goodbye to Exit 13; it will soon be Exit 29. Need something at the Warwick Mall? Don’t look for Exit 12; look for Exit 28B. Need the 6-10 connector? Don’t go to Exit 22; the new choice is Exit 37C.

The irony is that the people most likely to be confused, and perhaps lost, by the spiffy new system are the few folks who do not rely on a smart device to tell them where to drive. They just know that the best place for pasta anywhere in the region is off Exit 21 (soon to be 37A), the path to the South County beaches is down Exit 9 (24B), and the best route to see the PawSox is off Exit 29 (42A) — or rather, it used to be.

Eventually this bizarre new system will feel normal, and driving past exits (in this exact order) 1, 4, 7, 9, 14, 18, etc. will feel so warmly familiar. In a generation or two, it will make perfect sense.

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.