Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nightmare roads identified in congestion study

SAN ANTONIO — Mario Garibay knows exactly what to expect every morning when he noses his pickup onto Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin on his way to his construction industry job.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said with an air of resigned certainty. "Not for a long time."

The road Garibay drives on every morning is one of the 328 stretches of highway listed as the most seriously congested in the country in a report released on Tuesday by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. (See the report here.)

"This is the first nationwide effort that we have had to really identify reliability problems on specific stretches of highway," Bill Eisele, one of the research engineers who compiled the report, told Reuters.

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"Up until now we have identified average congestion levels, but people know that congestion isn't just an average problem."

The single most congested stretch of highway in the United States, according to the researchers, is on the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles, specifically the three-mile stretch of northbound California Highway 110 near Dodger Stadium.

The report estimates more than 1.4 million person hours are wasted each year by people sitting in traffic at that one intersection, using 2.1 million gallons of gasoline.

A person hour is an hour spent by one person; if six people are in a car stuck for an hour in a traffic jam, that's six person hours lost.

The second-worst stretch of highway is just a few miles to the south, where the Harbor Freeway intersects with Interstate 10 just south of downtown Los Angeles near the Staples Center. In that six-and-a-half-mile corridor, 1.1 million person hours are wasted and 3.6 million gallons of fuel are lost each year.

Six of the seven most congested stretches of highway in the country are in Los Angeles; the other is New York City's Van Wyck Expressway just outside John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Nightmare roads
Farther down the list, it seems every big city has its nightmare road, including:

San Francisco: Eastbound Interstate 80 at the Bay Bridge.Houston: Eastbound Interstate 10 at T.C. Jester Boulevard.Chicago: The Stevenson Expressway at State Street.Seattle: Southbound Interstate 405 at Coal Creek Parkway.

And Mario Garibay's Interstate 35 in San Antonio. "It's horrible," Garibay said. "Such a waste of time every day."

People who drive those highways on a daily basis know where the brake lights start, and where they will end.

"It happens religiously, the same places and the same times of the day," says Megan Bishop, who does traffic reports for several San Antonio radio stations. "It can be a clear day on a stretch of highway with plenty of exits and no entrances and still the traffic backs up."

The 328 corridors identified as congestion leaders account for only 6 percent of the nation's total freeway lane miles and 10 percent of the traffic, but account for 36 percent of the country's freeway congestion, Eisele said.

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"Our hope is that this report will shed some light on those areas around the country that are causing the most congestion, and the areas around the country where added investment would mean real improvements," he said.

In addition, the study looks at roads that are the most congested on weekends, roads that are more congested during after-work commutes than in the mornings and roads where backups are most likely due to a large number of big trucks.

Eisele said the data can be used by local officials to address traffic problems through building roads, adding aggressive responses to crashes to keep traffic flowing, and providing incentives to employers in the area to offer telecommuting and flexible work schedules.

"It is certainly frustrating when we're all sitting in it in our cars," he said. "No matter where you are, it's a painful experience."

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters.

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