I-90: An Interstate of Broken Dreams, Shattered Lives, and Little Hope

What feels like ages ago, we showcased to you the engineering marvel that is America's Interstate 80, a highway that can whisk you from New York City to San Francisco in one sitting with enough stimulants and a big enough gas tank. But there is, in fact, more than one American Interstate that crosses the continental U.S. They're just nowhere near as glamorous.
I-90 6 photos
Ladies and gentlemen, the world over, this is Interstate 90. A road that spans 3,021.22 miles (4,862.18 km) across 13 states on a coast-to-coast trajectory. One would think such a creation should be lauded as a masterpiece of transportation logistics. Instead, it's marked by a slew of post-industrial wasteland cities that bring America's poverty crisis into focus.

With construction beginning in 1956 and continuing to this day, I-90 was once a titan of a road used to transport goods, materials, and personnel to any one of the countless industrial cities peppered across the Northern U.S. at the arguable peak of its manufacturing might. Be it the potato fields of Idaho, the meatpacking districts of Chicago, the aircraft manufacturers of Buffalo, New York, or the iron mines of Pennsylvania.

By the end of the 1950s, all these industrial cities relied heavily on I-90 to bring their goods wherever they might be needed, in a country awash with money and pride. But in 2022, nearly all of these cities along Interstate 90's winding roads have had their industrial sectors gutted and their jobs shipped off to countries elsewhere. The result is that today, I-90 represents something more akin to a trail of tears than a highway to fortune.

Suppose one were to set off from the I-90's current eastern terminus near Logan International Airport in Boston and head due west along the Interstate. In that case, they'd be witness to a series of sights so depressing that one could only wonder how so many cities along its route managed to decay to such a state.

Photo: Flickr
The first in a line of these burnt-out cities you'd see on this road is laid across the spine of New York State via the western portion of the NY Thruway. With the post-industrial cities of Albany, Utica, Syracuse, and, of course, Buffalo.

These cities were once home to some of America's most vital manufacturing sectors in the mid-50s. Now, these four cities represent the first in a line of rusted-out, impoverished, and crime-riddled ex-industrial cities in an area stretching from New York to Iowa called the Rust Belt.

In these areas, crime rates, drug use, unemployment, and life-improvement opportunities rank some of the most dismal in the United States. While more affluent coastal cities bask in luxury, rust belt communities can mimic third-world countries in their worst cases.

Moving along on the route into Ohio, you'll soon cross paths with Cleveland. A once-proud city that's nowadays most known for its polluted rivers that occasionally catch fire. Although admittedl, it is a perfect city for pepole who love craft beer because of their numerous breweries. The good with the bad, we can only suppose.

Photo: Flickr
 Alternatively, you could at this point make sharp turn south down Interstate 79 to Pittsburgh, another city blighted by post industrial decay. Yet still, it hangs on by a threat thanks to a burgening tech field supported by giants like Astrobotic Technology and Argo AI. It's one of the few glimmers of hope you'd see on this journey.

If you decide instead to drive as the crow flies, you'll be on your way to Toledo, Ohio. A once-bustling Detroit satellite city where thousands of workers in the American automotive industry once lived.
Safe to say, those days are long gone.

As you pass through the burnt-out shell of the old Steelmaking town of Gary, Indiana, you might expect things to improve as you approach the  Chicago Skyway, which passes along I-90 into Chicago. Only to find that the promotional material for said city surely edits out the more unsavory, crime-ridden bits.

From Chicago, I-90 makes an abrupt turn upwards, heading north into Wisconsin and through to Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, before finally meeting its terminus at the State Route 519 in Seattle, Washington. Along this grand journey, you'll undoubtedly uncover harsh realities about the people and places outside of wealthy coastal cities and how low they've fallen since I-90 was first planned.

Photo: Flickr
It's a profoundly humbling experience if you've never seen it before.At they very least, you might cherish what little you have a little bit more when you see how people living with next to nothing get along. All because some outrageously long snake of tarmac allowed people to make it there.

Today, it still serves its primary purpose as a link between the east and west coast U.S. But nowadays, I-90s unofficial secondary goal seems to be showcasing the decay of industrial America that citizens unanimously believe should have never taken place.
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