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The Worst Highway Interchanges in America

 Posted on: June 15th, 2017

The Worst Highway Interchanges in America
Backed up highway in America

New data shows that drivers in the United States drove 3.2 trillion miles in 2016, setting a new record. This marks the fifth year of increased mileage on public roads, and drivers are feeling the effect. It’s estimated that drivers collectively spend 14.5 million hours stuck in traffic every day. While this a major inconvenience for daily commuters, over the road truckers are losing out on valuable time and money. There is major congestion across the country, but there are 10 interchanges that have especially bad bottlenecks for truckers:

  1. Atlanta, GA: I-285 at I-85 (North)
  2. Fort Lee, NJ: I-95 at SR 4
  3. Chicago, IL: I-290 at I-90/I-94
  4. Louisville, KY: I-65 at I-64/I-71
  5. Cincinnati, OH: I-71 at I-75
  6. Los Angeles, CA: SR 60 at SR 57
  7. Auburn, WA: SR 18 at SR 167
  8. Houston, TX: I-45 at US 59
  9. Atlanta, GA: I-75 at I-285 (North)
  10. Seattle, WA: I-5 at I-90

While statistics show that ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are on the rise, with 6%of American drivers using Uber or Lyft daily, and a 64% increase in cyclists traveling to work, one would assume traffic would be down. Despite the upward trend in ride sharing, biking, and public transit use, the roads are increasingly congested. Periods of traffic jams are starting earlier and lasting longer, thanks to rage-inducing bottlenecks.

Why Does Bad Traffic Happen to Good People?

There has been research into what is contributing to the larger problem. Typically land use patterns and population growth are the most prominent factors. Older urban areas that feature low-rise, walkable areas and transit efficient designs are illegal to build in many places today due to updated parking requirements, and other zoning regulations. This leads many people to point fingers at the increase in bike lanes and prioritizing bus and trolley traffic, which reduces the average vehicle speed. These factors may appear to be directly related to traffic, but they are not. Counterintuitively, building more roads and adding more lanes does not help congestion long-term either. These new roads and lanes all fill up as drivers move into the new space, and eventually these extra lanes and roads end up converging, causing a bottleneck, which makes up 40% of road congestion. Compare that to traffic incidents, which cause 25% of the congestion, and construction zones at 10%.

Are we Past the Point of No Return for Traffic Congestion?

As a driving centered society, we need to realize that the ongoing imbalance of drivers to the current amount of available road space means congestion will be a permanent part of our daily lives. But not all hope is lost - there are ways to improve the current traffic situation. But it will only be effective when used across the board, not just in a single area. Improving road use efficiency by using technology and other methods, coupled with increasing alternative options (smart-growth, transit oriented developments, educational programs about the zipper merge), could drastically reduce congestion on the roads. In order for this work, it requires corporate and municipal cooperation to develop better transportation demand management programs.

Decreasing the Bottleneck and Improving Road Flow

  • Adding More Capacity - increasing the number and size of highways and providing more transit and freight rail service
  • Operating Existing Capacity More Efficiently - getting more out of what we have
  • Encouraging Travel and Land Use Patterns that Use the System in Less Congestion Producing Ways - travel demand management (TDM), non-automotive travel modes, and land use management

Reducing the number of cars currently on the road is already starting to take hold, with more cities offering incentives to carpool or take public transit. As cities continue to grow, they are starting to be developed in a more sustainable fashion, using TDM strategies that ultimately reduce our reliance on cars, by changing the land use patterns in both the city and the suburbs. While this may not be feasible for truckers, by diverting daily commuter traffic to alternate routes or encouraging bus and trolley use, the major bottleneck highways could potentially clear up, making driving from one location to another easier for truck drivers.

It's 2017, Why Don't we have a Solution Yet?

Enter the Intelligent Transportation System - the future of roadways. This is a joint program office working within the Office of the Assistance Secretary for Research and Technology. ITS is looking to transport the way society moves, including building (smart cities and roadways), using embedded sensors, monitoring cameras, and adjustable traffic signals that change the timing or divert traffic to alternate routes. This is not an immediate solution, because implementing this is incredibly expensive, requires highly skilled operational refinements, and continued maintenance after installation. This is an ongoing process for ITS; their mission is to (conduct research, development, and education activities to facilitate the adoption of information and communication technology to enable society to move more safely and efficiently).

Currently, new apps can monitor car location and speed, alerting drivers to detour if a particular route is congested. However, because freight transportation has unique characteristics and requirements that only industry professionals are aware of, the companies developing this technology don’t always understand what truck drivers need to do, and what shippers and customers want. But, there is good news - there are apps that have been specifically developed for truckers, like Jupigo, Quick180, and DrayQ that help you find the best, most efficient route. Jupigo even helps drivers locate and swap containers outside of heavily populated shipping ports.

Great! Now What?

These strategies all help congestion when used together, and also begin laying the groundwork for strategies that will have a lasting impact, by reducing the demand for roadways with transportation demand management strategies. Since we are all affected by congestion, it is important to work together to address the congestion problem - between transportation agencies, businesses, elected officials, and you. Take ownership that you are an equal shareholder in road congestion. For over the road truckers, maybe taking a few back roads a few miles further out would be faster and more efficient than idling on the highway. It’s also important to become an active voice in your community, and talk to your local lawmakers about transportation issues.

Reducing congestion by taking action and providing alternatives for driving has a long list of positive outcomes. Not only will communities be safer, cleaner, and more livable, it will save everyone, especially over the road truckers, time, money, and sanity.