Transportation Nation

D.C. Suburb, at a "Crossroads," Eyes Bus Rapid Transit

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


The official kickoff to Montgomery County's BRT discussion was punctuated by worry and hope -- and was underscored by the sense that the densely populated county is at the transportation crossroads.

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Transportation Nation

Meet the Little Known Board Making Big Virginia Transportation Decisions

Monday, August 26, 2013


In Virginia, a major transportation project goes nowhere unless it receives the support of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. This influential, 17-member panel picks the winners from the state’s long wish list of road improvement projects. Yet, few of the members are known to the general public, and most do not have transportation or urban planning backgrounds. Most of these key transportation decision makers come from the real estate or banking sectors. 

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Transportation Nation

Maryland Seeks Private Operator for Purple Line

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Maryland will pursue a private firm to design, construct, finance, operate, and maintain the $2.2 billion Purple Line light rail system planned for D.C.’s northern suburbs, says Governor Martin O’Malley.

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Transportation Nation

Developers, Environmentalists Battle Over New Highway in D.C. Suburbs

Sunday, July 07, 2013


As the McDonnell administration’s plan to build a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia has morphed into the most contentious transportation issue in the region, its opponents – who disparagingly label the proposed road an “outer beltway” – have leveled the charge that the Bi-County Parkway is being rammed through the approval process by and for the benefit of real estate developers.

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Transportation Nation

Bay Area Traffic Rises with Economy

Friday, June 07, 2013


The Bay Area has two of the top ten most congested cities in the country. No other state, let alone region, can claim that title. While San Francisco has always been a top contender for the worst car traffic, San Jose jumped up in the list this year.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia and Maryland Set Up For Gasoline Border War

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


How far would you go for cheaper gas? Starting this July, Maryland drivers will be heading for the border.

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Transportation Nation

GOP Opposition to Virginia Highway Plan Continues to Grow

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Another Virginia congressman is adding his voice to Republicans questioning the McDonnell’s administration’s plan to construct a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia, a parkway running west of Dulles International Airport and Manassas Battlefield that critics call an “outer beltway.”

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Transportation Nation

'Outer Beltway' in D.C. Suburbs Meets Opposition From Residents, Lawmakers

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


A proposed highway that would skirt a Civil War battlefield is raising hackles in Virginia.

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Transportation Nation

Toll Lanes Touted as Congestion Fix for Central Florida's I-4

Friday, March 08, 2013

Artist's impression of the I-4 Ultimate project through Orlando (Image courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation)

"We love Orlando, we love Mickey Mouse, we love Walt Disney, Universal, the Church Street Facilities, that great mall -- Millenia Mall, but dadgum that I-4, that's a headache," Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad told journalists in Orlando this week.

"We're going to fix that headache."

The Florida DOT is moving ahead with plans for the I-4 Ultimate project- a $2.1 billion dollar fix for I-4. The state's prescription includes adding toll lanes to a 21-mile stretch of the interstate running through the heart of Orlando. The department aims to begin construction in 2015 and complete it by 202o.

Prasad said four so-called "managed lanes" would be added to the interstate, leaving six lanes toll free. Tolls would be higher during heavy congestion periods and lower when traffic is light.

“We use tolls to only keep a certain number of people in the managed lanes so we can keep them going at 50 miles an hour," he said. "Say if I-4's ‘general purpose’ lanes – the toll-free lanes – are congested and you only charge a quarter, everybody’s going to be on it, and now you got another two lanes of gridlock. So what you do is you use tolls as a way to manage capacity coming in to the express lane.”

Prasad conceded there is a downside to building the extra lanes.

"There's going to be inconvenience- you're talking about $2 billion worth of work in a very constrained corridor- albeit a long corridor- getting done over five years. It's a lot of work."

However, Prasad said a similar $1.3 billion expansion project is successfully underway on South Florida's I-595. He said travel times along that stretch of road-- roughly 10 miles -- have only increased by an average of five minutes because of construction.

The state is putting up about half the $2.1 billion dollar cost of the I-4 Ultimate project and courting private investment to foot the remainder of the bill. Under a public-private partnership agreement with the state, private firms would also maintain and operate the toll lanes for a fixed length of time.

Prasad said the public private partnership allows Florida to take advantage of low interest rates and construction costs.

"What the state gets is delivering a project 20 years in advance," he said.

"If we were to do this project on a regular pay-go mechanism, we would be building it for the next 20 or 25 years and chasing congestion like we always do."

Gregg Logan, a managing director at the real estate advisory firm RCLCO's Orlando office, says the I-4 upgrade will help the local economy.

"You don’t want businesses that are here already and thinking about expanding saying, 'Gee, do I want to stay here and deal with this gridlock'- or companies that might be thinking about coming and bringing jobs. We want them to be looking at [Orlando] as a good place to invest because we have our act together."

And he says Florida has to look for new ways to fund infrastructure - with a combination of local government funding, private investment and user fees- because federal government dollars are limited.

"Like it or not that seems to be a collective decision we’ve made as a society for that’s how we’re going to fund infrastructure," says Logan, who adds he's worried the US is falling behind other countries in transportation infrastructure.

"When you look around the world right now and you look at where big rail projects and transit projects are being done, you find that’s in China Brazil, the Middle East," says Logan.

"We’ve sort of forgotten that part of what has made us great and enabled us to have the growing economy we have is that we made these investments in infrastructure. Now we’ve taken that for granted."

The Florida DOT is promoting I-4's managed toll lanes as one part of a multi-modal transport system that could also include bus rapid transit to complement Central Florida's SunRail commuter train. SunRail is slated to begin service in 2014, while private rail companies are also talking about an Orlando to Miami service and a maglev rail linking Orlando International Airport with the Orange County Convention Center.

Eric Dumbaugh, the director of Florida Atlantic University's School of Urban and Regional Planning, supports the addition of managed lanes to I-4. The challenge for Florida, he says, is to develop viable alternatives to driving.

"Our transit system is inadequate in all of our metropolitan areas: it doesn’t take us where we need to go, our development doesn’t link up to it as well as it should, so we’re trapped in our cars."

But Dumbaugh says he's optimistic about Florida's ability to develop a truly comprehensive transportation system, because a new generation is now demanding alternatives to the car.

"You survey millennials- they don’t want to drive," says Dumbaugh, who highlights the efforts of a group of Florida Atlantic University students to set up a transit themed installation in Miami this weekend.


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Transportation Nation

Highway Expansions Are Only A Short-Term Solution: Expert

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Highway construction in Virginia (photo by bankbryan via flickr)

When the express lanes projects on the I-495 Beltway and I-95 in northern Virginia are ready for commuters, they will be designed to serve a dual purpose: encouraging carpooling by giving HOV-3 vehicles a free ride, and reducing congestion by also giving motorists the option of paying a premium toll to escape the usually jammed non-toll lanes.

The first of those goals is attainable. But the second is not, according to an expert on drivers’ behavior, who says expanding two of the busiest highways in the Washington metropolitan region will produce the unintended consequence of more congestion in the long term.

“The biggest potential problem is that we’re building more roads that will provide very short-term congestion relief and will cause other kinds of traffic and travel problems,” says transportation consultant Rachel Weinberger, the co-author of Auto Motives: Understanding Car Use Behavior.

Weinberger believes enough drivers will be willing to pay the tolls so Transburban, the private entity building the 495 and 95 Express Lanes, will make a profit.  However, she says, there's little evidence to suggest expanding highways will solve a region’s congestion woes.

“First we have to ask, do we really need this road? All of the research shows that when you add capacity to highways, rather than relieving congestion in the long run, you actually create more congestion in other parts of the system,” she says.

In short, wider highways induce more traffic. Those new users ultimately have to exit the highway somewhere, producing more traffic on secondary roads where expansion is not possible. “Now you have dumped more cars onto the streets on Washington D.C. because you’ve added this capacity on I-495,” Weinberger says.

Earlier this week, TN asked Virginia governor Bob McDonnell if northern Virginia is becoming overly reliant on highway expansion projects to solve congestion problems. McDonnell responded that the state is trying different solutions. “We are trying to do everything,” he said, adding that Virginia is investing in transit projects like the Silver Line.

Backers of the Express Lanes projects are relying on drivers’ willingness to pay pricey tolls for a faster, more predictable ride.  They are also calling the possible increase in carpooling a win-win, even though more free rides on the new lanes mean less toll revenue for Transurban.  However, in the contract with the state of Virginia, Transurban is protected in the event the number of free rides rises dramatically.

The state is required to subsidize ride sharing if the number of carpoolers on I-495 reaches at least 24 percent “of the total flow of all [vehicles] that are… going in the same direction for the first 30 consecutive minutes during any day… during which average traffic for [the toll lanes] going in the same direction exceeds a rate of 3,200 vehicles per hour…”  The threshold on I-95 will be 35 percent under similar conditions.

In Weinberger’s view, there will enough new carpoolers and toll payers to provide the appearance of relief -- but it won’t last.

“We sit in traffic and we fume about it and we think that the easy solution is to build more lanes and then we won’t have so much traffic, but I am sure the Beltway has been expanded several times and there continues to be traffic,” she says.  "Typically when we build more capacity we make somebody’s trip a little bit faster, but it’s very rare that people actually conserve their travel-time savings. Instead they’ll make some other adjustment like they may move further out, creating more sprawl."


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Transportation Nation

On Congestion Charging: Carrot or Stick?... Mixed Responses

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stanford University

This morning's New York Times science section reported on a Stanford experiment on getting drivers to use the roads on its Palo Alto campus at off-peak times: allow them to enter a lottery to win $50 if they avoid rush hour.

Stanford reports huge success, and so do drivers, who say their commutes have been reduced by as much as 18 minutes, from 25 down to seven.

Here's how the story begins:

"Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, thinks he has a better way.

A few years ago, trapped in an unending traffic jam in Bangalore, India, he reflected that there was more than one way to get drivers to change their behavior. Congestion charges are sticks; why not try a carrot?"

So, we wondered, could a carrot reduce congestion in a big city, like New York, and not just on Palo Alto's bucolic, palm-lined campus?

Not much enthusiasm for that idea.  "How do you pay for it?" wondered Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, in an email. Wylde  has been a big booster of congestion pricing to reduce traffic in midtown Manhattan. Also, she notes, there's "no net reduction in carbon footprint."

Paul Steely White, president of Transportation Alternatives and Wylde's partner in the failed attempt to bring congestion charging to New York, said he tended to agree with transportation expert Charles Komanoff, who was quoted in the article as saying:  “'The incentives will be far too small. You really do need big disincentives (big sticks). Little carrots won’t do the job of changing drivers’ decisions' in New York or in San Francisco."

But White said a pilot "would be great."

Rachel Weinberger, a University of Pennsylvania professor and expert in everything having to do with driving, says there's evidence on both sides. If a woman can reduce her commute by 18 minutes, Weinberger muses, no matter what happens in the lottery, she would have "won" back at least $50 in a month of that kind of time savings.

"It makes me wonder, if as a matter of public policy, we really need to be so concerned about the 'cost' of congestion.  In terms of paying people to 'behave the way we want them to'  it seems that every time I drive in earlier than the congestion charge takes effect I'm paying myself the charge. "

Weinberger describes a Seattle experiment where people were given an account and then drew down on it according to when they drove --  off-peak was cheaper than peak. In the experiment, they could keep what was left at the end. There was a 5-10 percent drop in driving.

"So there's some evidence that people behave irrationally and some that suggests they behave rationally after all."




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Transportation Nation

DC Dangles Cash to Fight Congestion

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rush hour motorists jam the roadway getting into Washington, DC.

(Washington, DC -- Jessica Gould, WAMU) The District is partnering with two local universities to help employees live near where they work. As part of a new pilot program, the District is giving $60,000 each to Gallaudet and American universities to help staff members live within a couple miles of campus.

"Seventy percent of the people who work in the District of Columbia do not live in the city," says Mayor Vincent Gray. "Given the fact that we have no authority to tax income at its source it means that people who live outside the city then pay taxes in whatever jurisdiction in which they live."

The city is providing up to $6,000 dollars to help homeowners with downpayments or closing costs, and the universities will match the funds.

"It means reduced traffic congestion and air pollution and a stronger, more stable tax base for the city," says D.C. Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning.

Critics have called the program a drop in the bucket, but when it comes to improving the environment and enhancing the quality of life, Tregoning says every little bit counts.

"The employee also gets to spend less time commuting, and has a potentially healthier lifestyle because they're able to walk or bike, which is going to be good for them," Tregoning says.

For an audio version, click here.

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Transportation Nation

Ten Most Congested Intersections in Montgomery County

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photo Courtesy of Armando Trull

(Washington, DC -- Jonathan Wilson, WAMU) Traffic congestion in Montgomery County has not gotten any better during the past two years, and the county’s network of roads continues to be strained by increasing numbers of commuters relying on cars as their primary means of travel, county planners say.

This most recent transportation evaluation comes from the annual Montgomery's Mobility Assessment Report. The report shows that certain corridors continue to be particularly bad for commuters during rush hours, including US-29 between Howard County and University Boulevard in the mornings, and eastbound University Boulevard between Georgia and New Hampshire avenues in the evenings.

Metrorail ridership in Montgomery County has remained steady, but bus service has declined slightly, according to the report. The survey also included a list of the county's worst intersections for traffic: taking top billing was Old Georgetown Road and Democracy Boulevard in Rockville, an intersection that hadn't been included in the top 10

There is hope for the future, planners say. Congestion should ease as more residents seek alternative commutes, and new housing developments are built closer to mass transit. The county board is scheduled to review the report at its meeting Thursday.

Top 10 most trafficked intersections in Montgomery County:

  1. Old Georgetown Road at Democracy Boulevard
  2. Damestown Road at Riffle Ford Road
  3. Shady Grove Road at Choke Cherry Lane
  4. Rockville Pike at W. Cedar Lane
  5. George Avenue at Norbeck Road
  6. MD 355 at Edmondston Drive
  7. Great Seneca Highway at Muddy Branch Road
  8. Connecticut Avenue at Jones Bridge Road
  9. E. Gude Drive at Crabbs Branch/Cecil
  10. Randolph Road at New Hampshire Avenue
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City Says New Sensor System Will Help Move Midtown Traffic

Monday, July 18, 2011

Midtown traffic jams can now be eased with the touch of a button, according to city officials who hope a battery of new traffic cameras, E-Z Pass readers and microwave motion sensors installed at 23 Manhattan intersections will help prevent congestion.


Transportation Nation

Did NJ Gov Christie Copter to Son's Game Because of Sprawl?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New Jersey is a famously congested state.  Though it's got one of the most extensive transit networks in the country, it's also got more roads per square mile than any other state.

So when the famously cost cutting NJ Governor Chris Christie 'coptered over to his son's ballgame the other day, there was both outrage and a possible defense, outlined by Fairleigh Dickenson Public Mind Poll Director Peter Woolley.   "I think a good defense is that this is the sprawl state and so it's very difficult to get from one place to another, even when the roads are in good shape," Woolley told WNYC's Bob Hennelly.

But still.  Even though Christie was headed to a son's game, he may not have such an easy time playing the family card as he did last winter, when he explained an absence from the state during one of the worst winter blizzards by saying he wasn't going to apologize for vacationing with his family.

Christie may helicopter less frequently than some of his predecessors, but it's almost impossible to spin something like this well.   If you're not the President of the United States, you pretty much can't win on the optics of getting a better form of transport than your average Joe, especially if taxpayers are footing the bill.

WNYC''s Bob Hennelly has the full story on Democratic outrage over his use of the helicopter, and the state police's defense, over at our sister site, It's a Free Country.Org

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Transportation Nation

Old Plans, Current Debate: Would A Second Beltway Work Today?

Friday, April 08, 2011


This map from the early 1960s shows all the highways planned for construction by the end of the century. Some were actually built. Others, like the second Beltway, weren't.

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) The idea of a second Beltway -- a circular highway in Virginia and Maryland,  is sort of mythical now, but back in the 1960s, it was a reality. An official map from back then shows the highways that regional planners thought would be finished by the year 2000. A bright, red line forms a concentric circle around the Beltway -- the first Beltway, that is. This red line goes around or, in some cases, directly through the towns of Mount Vernon, Fairfax and Herndon in Virginia and then Rockville, Bowie and Upper Marlboro in Maryland.

Stewart Schwartz is the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a local nonprofit group opposed to sprawling development. Schwartz says a second Beltway would have made our outer suburbs look very different than they do today.

"You would see what typically follows highways -- especially at interchanges -- is development. And you'd have hotels and gas stations and strip malls along these areas," he says.

The second Beltway does not exist, despite its presence on the 50-year-old maps of the future. Funding for the highway was just never there.

Still, not everyone thought it was a bad idea. In fact, there are still some folks out there who think a second Beltway could actually work.

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, leads a pro-business advocacy group that seeks to steer more funding to roads and highways in the Commonwealth.

"The reason the existing Beltway is so crowded is because we have not constructed alternatives and we are forcing an inordinate amount of traffic onto a very limited facility," he says.

To be sure, many transit activists say more trains and buses would accomplish the same goal.

Chase says the politicians that killed the second Beltway did so in the name of slowing growth. But, he says, that growth happened anyway. Now there aren't enough roads to accommodate it.

"Two-thirds of your population is outside the Capital Beltway and in the future an even higher percentage is out there. And right now, there's no way to move people between Maryland and Virginia other than the Beltway," he says.

Chase doesn't just want a second Beltway, though. He thinks the region also needs a third.

In fact, the regional planners of the '60s agreed with him. A third Beltway is also on their maps. It would've gone west of Dulles Airport in Loudoun County, then down past the Manassas Battlefield and across the Potomac River into Charles County, Md. Beyond that well, the planners didn't really get that far.

Today, the mere idea of a third Beltway is a political nonstarter. And that, Chase says, is what's wrong with the modern day political process.

"Transportation policy is responding too much to small groups, small neighborhoods, small situations and ignoring the big picture. And that's why we have the nation's worst congestion," he says.

Right now, though, and off into the foreseeable future, we're stuck with the one Beltway we already have. But the idea of multiple concentric circles isn't just theoretical. After all Baltimore has a Beltway, Atlanta has a Beltway, Houston actually has two.

And Schwartz, the anti-sprawl advocate, says he'll take D.C. over any of them: "We have been much more successful as a region because: a.) We've protected our greenspace; b.) Because we've revived our city; and c.) Because we've tied it all to a transit system," he says.

Perhaps it's just as well. Because once you build a third Beltway, you'd probably need to build another one...and another one...and another one. And really at that point, who can keep track?

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Note: This story was originally written for broadcast on WAMU in Washington. To listen to the audio version, visit

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Transportation Nation

NY May Be Second In Traffic, But It's Tops in Bottlenecks

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Cross Bronx (photo by Jon T/Flickr)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Although the New York City metropolitan area is second to Los Angeles in traffic, it has the number one bottleneck in the country.

That honor goes to the Cross Bronx (I-95),  according to the 2010 National Traffic Scorecard, released by the Washington State-based traffic company INRIX.

In congested traffic it took an average of 63 minutes to drive the 11.3 mile corridor.

"In almost the same amount of time you could make the 100-mile trip from New York to Philadelphia on Acela Express," said Sam ("Gridlock Sam") Schwartz, a former NYC traffic commissioner.

New York City also had six out of the top ten bottlenecks nationwide. You can download a pdf of the NYC findings here.

It's unclear whether the recent spike in gas prices will affect congestion levels.

INRIX's research dovetails with a report released earlier this year by the Texas Transportation Institute, which also said Los Angeles and New York City had the worst congestion in the country.

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Transportation Nation

Houston's Escalating Traffic Woes: Study Says Commute is Third Worst in America

Thursday, December 16, 2010

(Houston, TX -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF) Earlier this year we learned that Houston has five of the top ten most congested roads in Texas.  Now, Houston’s been given the title of third worst place to commute in America. and reporters at compared data to come up with the rankings. The study factored in travel time, hours wasted in traffic, and car expenses like gas and vehicle maintenance. Alan Clark is the manager of Transportation Planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council. He says more and more people are transplanting themselves in Houston every day, making it nearly impossible for the infrastructure to catch up. Clark points out that growth in job activity, in population, and in travel, "far outstrips the increases in new roads and expansion of existing roads to carry that traffic.”

Hear the story over at KUHF News.

Clark offers a pretty bleak outlook for Houston commuters . With funding options limited, he says there’s not a lot of cash for transportation projects. “The resources for improving our road system continue to decline, and are expected to decline further in the next ten years, says Clark. "We’ve really been spending a lot of time prioritizing the dollars that are available,” he says.

Clark says some of the money is going into transit alternatives, like vanpools, carpools, and public transportation. H-GAC is also working with employers who can provide compressed work weeks or tele-working from home. Clark hopes all of these things will reduce the number of cars on the roads.

Still, if current projections hold true, you may have to leave earlier to get to work on time. Clark puts the problem in perspective this way: "Today, let’s say that you’re able to get to work in about 40 minutes; in the future that travel to work might take more than an hour.

Of the 90 American cities studied, Houston came in at 88. We’re better off than our northern neighbor though–Dallas came in dead last.

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Transportation Nation

Non Profit Challenges Conventional Wisdom on Worst and Best Commutes

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) For 25 years, the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Report has been the gold standard in traffic congestion rankings. It now has some competition from a group that has released its own report--with glaringly different findings.

"Driven Apart: How sprawl is lengthening our commutes and why misleading mobility measures are making things worse" was crafted by CEOS for Cities, a non-profit that is pushing more sustainable urban practices. Where the UMR looks at travel speed and amount of time spent in a vehicle, Driven Apart looks at time spent in cars during "peak" travel times--and concludes that the very cities the UMR ranks as worst are often, in fact, the best. That's because a longer commute, if partially traffic-free, is considered better than a shorter commute, with traffic all the way.

By this standard, the greater the sprawl, the better the commute. The more compact the city, the worse.

In a statement on their website, CEOs for cities says the UMR "actually penalizes cities that have shorter travel distances and conceals the additional burden caused by longer trips in sprawling metropolitan areas."

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Transportation Nation

Houston, We Have a Problem: 4,507,059 Hours of Traffic

Friday, September 03, 2010

flickr: kalebdf

(Houston, TX - Wendy Siegle, KUHF NewsLab) Frankly, driving around Houston can be a nightmare. Resistance to mass transit infrastructure has taken its toll, and earlier this year Forbes ranked the petro-metro as the eighth worst place to commute. In more recent news, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) went even further in measuring extreme gridlock this week by ranking the state’s most congested roadways.

For the thousands of Houstonians who sluggishly commute along Interstate 45 each day, they don’t need TxDOT to tell them they’ve got a pretty crappy deal. But commuters may feel relieved that their chock-a-block freeway is finally getting the recognition it deserves. According to TxDOT’s list, the stretch of I-45 from Beltway 8 North to Loop 610 reigns victorious at number one. State officials say the total annual hours of delay comes to 4,507,059; that’s 484,630 hours per mile. TxDOT even worked out the annual cost of the delay – a whopping $98.03 million.

But I-45, you’re not alone. Five of the top ten most backed up roadways in Texas are located in Houston’s home county, Harris. Nine made the top 20. Pardon the hackneyed phrase, but Houston, we most definitely have a problem.

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