Houston takes top two spots on state’s most-congested list
Houston is Number One.
And, aggravatingly enough, Number Two.
Two Houston spots are tops in the state for traffic, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s annual list of most congested roads in Texas.
Loop 610 from Interstate 10 to Interstate 69 through Uptown is the worst — again — with 1.6 million wasted minutes in traffic per mile.
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Next is I-69 from Loop 610 to Texas 288, meaning the two worst spots in Texas abut each other in one of the densest areas in the metro region.
It’s the first time since 2012 that a metro area held the top two spots on the list, which has been conducted since 2010.
It also is no surprise, researchers say. Five of the 10 most congested spots on the 2018 list in Texas are in the Houston area, and 12 of the top 20.
Segments in Texas’s growing metro areas where commutes and economic activity, such as trucking or commercial development, collide typically top the list.
“Anytime from before sun-up to after sundown, they can have congestion,” said David Schrank, author of the Urban Mobility Report. The report is produced annually by the transportation institute and is the basis for the state’s most-congested list, which is submitted to the Texas Legislature by the Texas Department of Transportation.
Houston’s growth has made all of those crowded places feed into one another, Schrank said, especially in areas south of I-10 into Fort Bend County.
“It is bad because you have a lot of commuters from the southwest, and every day they are coming in and you have a lot of business activity along the Loop and all of that comes together,” he said.
As a result, drivers along the West Loop average a combined 1.6 million lost hours in traffic per mile, at a cost of $119.4 million annually in wasted gasoline and time.
Fred Jobs is convinced at least a few of those dollars are draining out of his gas tank as he idles along Loop 610 to and from his office in Bellaire and home south of Memorial City Mall.
“You’d think for that kind of money we’d be better off fixing it,” Jobs said. “Ten years ago, we should have spent the money then and there to double-deck it.”
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Attempts to widen Loop 610 by elevating lanes stalled over opposition to what a two-level freeway could add to noise levels and pollution in neighborhoods near Memorial Park. TxDOT currently is planning elevated express lanes along the Loop from I-10 to I-69, though the project is not approved for construction and would follow the ongoing work to redo the Loop 610 interchange with I-69.
Crews are reconstructing ramps between the two freeways in all directions to make them two lanes, adding shoulders and rebuilding the main lanes of Loop 610. Officials have said the $259 million project will improve traffic flow drastically by easing some of the bottlenecks as motorists slow on the ramps.
Work on the interchange started 11 months ago, with completion not expected until 2023. Schrank said the work is likely to make things worse before it gets better. Over the years, construction has been blamed for a number of Houston roadways rising on the most congested list, notably U.S. 290.
Still, relief eventually does come for many routes. Interstate 35 West in Fort Worth once topped the state’s most-congested list, before a major reconstruction. Since completion of the stretch from Interstate 30 to Texas 183 was finished four years ago, it fell to 24th on the 2017 statewide list.
Relief, however, has been short-lived. The segment along I-35W rose to sixth on the 2018 list.
“If you have enough volume, you are going to stay somewhere on the list,” Schrank said.
There also is increasing awareness that some of the segments simply cannot wait for once-in-a-generation reconstructions to relieve traffic. In Houston, TxDOT officials are working on a number of fronts, spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said, ranging from major work such as the Loop 610/I-69 interchange to expanding programs to communicate traffic conditions to drivers and keeping lanes clear by supporting programs to tow drivers off the freeways at no charge.
Perhaps the biggest changes can be made to spread traffic out, and avoid some trips altogether, Schrank said. Taking 5 percent of drivers off major routes during peak times could make a huge difference in congestion.
“One part of the solution is to change how we are getting around,” Schrank said. “It could be as simple as changing the time of making that trip.”