Going Nowhere Fast
It's one thing to be caught in a traffic jam caused by an accident or by simple road repair. It is quite another to be trapped into a traffic jam caused by the folly of some highway engineer or by a construction project that rivals the building of the Great Pyramid in duration. Yet, more and more, these built-in bottlenecks -- places where the savvy commuter knows darn well she's in for trouble -- are becoming the norm in our big cities.
Recently AAA catalog its Top 10 List of "Commuter Hotspots," but in this case that title might be misplaced unless it is used in reference to that hottest of all hotspots, Hell, because these chokepoints are just that for urban commuters. So to further illustrate what many of our city drivers are going through, here is a look at the ten worst of the worst:
Boston, Massachusetts: Interstate 93 north and south
Boston's central artery has been the site of one of the most complex public works projects in history. It's called the "Big Dig" because it replaces the elevated pass through downtown. The on-going project has created a major traffic snarl, but it is already reaping benefits for commuters because a major section of the tunnel is now open for traffic. The previous major artery was built in the 1950s to carry 90,000 cars daily, but it now overflows with more than 200,000 cars each day. The on-going project replaces the six-lane elevated highway with an eight-to-ten-lane underground expressway directly crossing the Charles River.
Chicago, Illinois: Interstate 88 at the Eisenhower Expressway
Traffic from western suburbs comes to a halt as 34,000 cars from I-88 merge with 43,000 cars from the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) every day. The road goes down to a single lane for one-and-a-half blocks before opening up to multiple lanes, so what should be a 20-minute trip to the city may end up taking well over an hour. (Driving Today's managing editor was routinely caught in this mess 30 years ago when he was in college and, sadly, nothing has changed, except he has gotten older.)
Dallas, Texas: Interstate 35 at Interstate 30
Known as the "Mix Master" by local motorists, these two local highways merge and struggle to carry more than 200,000 vehicles per day from downtown through the steep hills of "The Canyon."
Los Angeles, California: 710 Freeway
As the major artery to and from the port of Los Angeles, this freeway currently carries over 47,000 trucks per day, roughly the equivalent of 15 percent of the nation's total sea-borne cargo volume. The movement of goods through Southern California will continue to grow as the region's economy does, and the existing configuration cannot handle current truck and traffic volumes. The anticipated increases will make the heavily congested conditions even worse.
Los Angeles, California: US 101/405 Interchange
Some 20 miles away from the dreaded 710 freeway, the intersection of Highway 101 and the 405 freeway has been called the worst intersection in the nation. Even after re-engineering of exits eased some of the pain, traffic congestion lasts for about five hours every weekday afternoon.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Interstate 15 and the SR-92 Interchange
Lakes to the west and the Wasatch Range to the east have funneled explosive population growth into this corridor. This interchange connects an existing two-lane highway to the Interstate in a rapidly developing area. It is predicted that residents will see traffic increase 275 percent in the next five years alone.
Atlanta, Georgia: I-75 at I-85 Interchange
Known as the "Downtown Connector" these highways intersect about three miles north of downtown Atlanta. The resulting traffic jam passes through midtown and downtown Atlanta in a north/south direction. This interchange has one of the highest volumes of highway traffic in the country, carrying more than 340,000 vehicles per day.
New York, New York: George Washington Bridge Exit Ramp for Northbound Major Deegan Expressway
This spiraling ramp is congested by trucks that must weave across two lanes to get to the upper level of the George Washington Bridge. The inevitable results of this are traffic jams on both the Deegan and Cross Bronx expressways. Traffic jams can last from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., adding up to six and half hours of congestion daily.
Seattle, Washington: SR 520 Bridge
At the heart of Seattle's traffic congestion is SR 520, Puget Sound's major artery for transporting people and goods. One of the oldest floating bridges in the world, the SR 520 Evergreen Point Bridge is at the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced for the safety of the traveling public. If this bridge were to suffer a seismic failure (or a really mean troll took over,) travel time between downtown and Seattle and Redmond would nearly double from an average of 33 minutes to 55 minutes.
Washington, DC Area: I-495 at the I-270 Interchange
One of the most congested sections of the Capital Beltway for Washington DC-area commuters, this bottleneck crosses through both Maryland and Virginia. The problem is I-270 terminates where it meets I-495 and runs northwest to Frederick, Maryland. Traffic volumes at the I-495 and I-270 interchange are extremely high in both the morning and evening commutes. Breakdowns and accidents on this span can have a major impact on the traffic flow in both Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
Cleveland-based automotive journalist Luigi Fraschini is often stuck in traffic, and he doesn't like it.