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NY-90 shows the rewards of a road less traveled

Rochester Business Journal
September 13, 2013

As part of the annual celebration of summer, we took a leisurely ride on Route 90. What? Leisurely? It is unlikely that leisurely and Route 90 have ever before been used in the same sentence. But it is true.
 
Interstate 90, aka I-90, hardly pauses as it surges through Western New York. While locals in every area consider I-90 to be a vital part of their daily lives, the highway disdains identification with any specific locale. There is a good reason: It is the longest highway in the United States, stretching just over 3,101 miles from Boston to Seattle. It does not encourage leisurely driving. The signs may read "Slower traffic keep right," but few cars and drivers qualify for admission to that group.
 
Travel has always been dominated by speed. Which cars could be driven faster? Which routes had fewer traffic problems? Which airlines had the best connections? What is the most expeditious way to get from Point A to Point B? Speed is a sought-after quality, a characteristic to be admired and regarded as far superior to actions that were regarded as calm, steady or unhurried.
 
With each passing year, new technologies elevate speed to ever higher stature. Where once email provided what was regarded as the model of a meteoric medium, it is being outclassed by texting.
 
It took some time for me to grasp this concept, but now I agree: The important thing isn't just reaching the destination; it is completing the journey. However, for some there comes a moment when speed is just one consideration among many.
 
It was not a consideration for us as we took a leisurely ride on the other Route 90. That would be NY-90 in the Finger Lakes area, which traverses a 53-mile path mostly in Cayuga County, a generally picturesque road running south from Montezuma to its southern terminus in Homer, Cortland County.
 
One long and one short, I-90 and NY-90 are the only two roads in the state with the same number. They intersect near Montezuma, but there is no access between them.
 
I mention that because it seems timely, in the waning days of summer. Despite crowded highways and high gas prices, we Americans still favor the automobile. The motor trip, whether to the beach, to the cabin in the mountains or to the big city, remains high on most lists of vacation possibilities.
 
Usually drivers choose the roads most traveled, roads like the New York Thruway or the Pennsylvania or Massachusetts Turnpike, all of which years ago were embraced by the Interstate Highway System and adopted as parts of I-90. They feature speed, which means rush, rush, rush, with drivers sprinting along at 70 or 75-plus miles per hour, with the objective of logging as many miles in as short a time as possible.
 
I'm no slowpoke, and I don't intend to minimize the value of speed. However, it is important to remember there are benefits to be gained by following a road less traveled. One of my friends is an insurance broker with a specialized statewide clientele. His work requires considerable travel, and he mostly uses I-90.
 
"It gets me where I need to go," he said, "but it is so damn boring I'll sometimes use 5 and 20 just for a relief." Those roads, south of I-90, were the main east-west route across New York before completion of the Thruway in the 1950s.
 
This is what you will see on a ride down NY-90: The northern terminus is near the Montezuma Swamp, the 40,000-acre wetland managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that includes the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Heading south, the road hugs the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake most of the way, passing villages like Cayuga, Aurelius, Union Springs, Levanna and Aurora. Churches dominate the village squares, and roadside farm stands offer freshly picked produce. The road turns east near King Ferry, and then it is on to Goose Tree, Genoa, Locke, Summer Hill and, finally, Homer.
 
The chances are you have never received a postcard from any of those places, although Aurora is the home of MacKenzie-Childs, internationally known designer and manufacturer of pottery and furniture, and Locke, the birthplace of Millard Fillmore.
 
If you are planning a leisurely journey, I nominate NY-90. If you are in a hurry, do your speed work on I-90.

Dick Hirsch is a longtime contributor to the Opinion page.


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