Commute pits 
Route 61 vs. Route 183

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

Seven years ago when I started working here at Reading Eagle Company I moved into an apartment in the 100 block of south Fifth Street. My mornings started off with a pleasant two-block, two-minute commute to work. As my car stayed parked each day, I took great pleasure in saving gas and enjoyed fewer oil changes. It was also really nice that I did not have to wait for my shoes to get warm in the winter time before heading out.

Roughly two years later I moved into an apartment complex on the edge of the city, near the end of Hampden Boulevard. Although this more than quadrupled my morning commute, it was still not enough of a hassle to cause me much concern. The amount of mileage I was adding to my car crossing the city was negligible. Traffic was also not much of a concern as the grid work of the city offers infinite options for getting across town. The commute was so short that by the time my car was warmed up in the winter I was already parking in downtown.

Two years ago I bought a home in Schuylkill County. My Realtor must have asked me a dozen times if I was sure I would be okay with a nearly 30-mile, 30-to-40 minute commute. "Sure," I said. "Whatís the big deal? I enjoy driving. "

Well, my new home offered only two choices for getting to work: Route 183 or Route 61. Iíve come to learn that deciding between those two routes is like trying to decide between root canal or having the tooth pulled. Either route will be painful and seem to take forever.

At first glance, I thought the decision between the roads was an easy one since the math was seemingly simple. Both options are roughly the same distance. Route 61 generally has higher speed limits than Route 183. For the most part, Route 183 is a crawling single lane compared to the bustling two lanes of Route 61. The choice seemed to be obvious.

Unfortunately, it was time for me to learn the "new math." The new math is also really simple to understand, but not as obvious until you actually take the time to sit down and count it out. Luckily (or maybe I should say, unluckily), Route 61 offers plenty of time to sit and count so it did not take me very long to realize the error in my math.

Since Iíve already done the math for you, let me share itís simplicity and all will make sense. If you travel from the Penn Street Bridge to my home via Route 183, you will travel through six traffic lights and one of them doesnít really count as it flashes yellow for me. In sharp contrast, Route 61, between those two points, is plagued with 20 red lights (one more on the way!).

Notice in that last line I said red lights, not traffic lights. That is no mistake, I assure you. If you commute to Reading via Route 61, every one of those lights will be red. I guarantee it. In fact, sometimes theyíll be red two or three times before you actually get to drive through them.

Since my math lesson, Iíve been religiously using Route 183 to trek to work each day. In reality, the commute has not been that bad as traffic on Route 183 generally keeps moving. I say generally because there are days that make me want to jump on the roof of my car and start screaming. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I want to jump on the roof of someone elseís car and start screaming.

You see, the frustrating times on Route 183 usually come from getting in a long line of traffic behind someone that seems to be truly terrified of the speed limit. Some people are apparently intimidated by traveling at the blistering pace of 45 mph. That kind of mind-boggling pace just isnít for everyone. It should probably be reserved for professional race car drivers that are trained to handle such insane speeds.

These "fearful of 45" drivers tend to float somewhere between 39 and 43 mph. I have yet to find a car that enjoys traveling long distances at those speeds. It seems like you are either over-revving a lower gear or lugging along in a higher gear. Itís just not a pleasant speed to cruise at, which just adds to me being baffled by the people who can hover at that speed, seemingly forever.

Itís always easy to see when you are approaching one of these drivers as they are typically followed by several hundred other cars with steam emanating from the interior. These wretched caravans can easily be seen from great distances as the constant alternating brake lights offer more flashing red lights than the airport. Speaking of the airport, Iím surprised these long chains of flashing red lights on Route 183 have not caused air traffic control problems at our regional facility.

Whenever I get stuck in one of these never-ending lines of traffic, I am always left asking the same question over and over: Donít these people ever look into their rear-view mirrors?