Driving on the Edge
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|Keith Laing||November 27th 2014|
Millions of people traveling for Thanksgiving will face daunting traffic problems that critics say have been magnified by Washington’s inability to move a long-term bill to pay for new highway projects.
With a nor’easter bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard this Thanksgiving, it’s expected to be an especially brutal few days on the road.
Congress hasn’t approved a long-term highway bill since 2005, and it’s become much more difficult to move legislation since then because of a variety of reasons, including the end of earmarks that directed money toward specific lawmaker-backed projects and a financial crisis and recession that made it tougher to move big-budget bills.
Business groups, labor unions and other players have pressed Congress since then to focus on infrastructure, but to little avail.
The crisis is getting worse in some ways, too, since the gas tax used to fund most highway improvements hasn’t been raised in decades and can no longer keep up with the need, according to advocates such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
That makes it all the more likely that travelers on this holiday weekend will experience crumbling roads and bridges.
Here are five of the worst stretches in the country. Be thankful if you’re not driving their this weekend. If you are, be thankful if you didn’t get stuck.
1. Interstate 110 in Los Angeles
Los Angeles has the second-worst gridlock of any major city in the U.S., behind only Honolulu, according to the INRIX traffic scorecard that was released in July.
Los Angeles has nearly four times as many residents as Hawaii of course, and traffic there is always notoriously bad.
This highway runs north and south through California’s biggest city, and if you’re on it this Thanksgiving, there’s a good chance you’re in gridlock.
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, I-110, also known as the Harbor Freeway, had gridlock in 2010 that resulted in 1,440 hours of delays per mile and 2,170 wasted gallons of gasoline.
2. Interstate 80 in San Francisco
San Francisco is home to the most recent World Series champion in baseball, but when it comes to traffic, it falls closely behind Los Angeles.
The city by the Bay ranked third on INRIX’s traffic scorecard this year, and traffic on its portion of Interstate 80 is particularly bad.
I-80 runs all the way to Teaneck, New Jersey, but traffic on one 3.6 mile segment in San Francisco resulted in 600 hours of delays per mile for drivers in 2010, according to the Texas A&M study. It also cost drivers 1,005 gallons of wasted gas, which is a massive expense even if gas has dipped below $3 per gallon.
3. Interstate 35 in Austin, Texas
Houston and Dallas are Texas’ biggest population centers, but the Lone Star state’s capital city ranked higher than both of its major metropolitan areas in the INRIX traffic study.
Austin ranked fourth for gridlock in the 2014 study. I-35 runs from Texas’ Mexican border to Minnesota, and it is home to a high-profile bridge collapse in 2007 that transportation advocates were sure would have spurred more congressional action to fix highways in the U.S.
But seven years later, traffic on Austin’s portion of I-35 is still notoriously clogged. One 6.7 miles stretch of the highway in Austin produced 546 hours of delays per mile for drivers and cost them 1,698 gallons of wasted gas.
4. Interstate 678 in New York
The West Coast and Texas don't have a monopoly on bad roads.
New York City ranked sixth on the INRIX traffic scorecard. It is also home to the worst road in the East Coast, according to Texas A&M in the form of a 3.1 mile stretch of highway running from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to the Bronx.
Known as Van Wyck Expressway, the road produced 690 hours of delays per mile and 1,086 wasted gallons of gasoline.
5. Interstate 95 north and south of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. has become closely associated with congressional inaction in recent years, but there has always also been gridlock on its highways.
Interstate 95 runs along the entire length of the East Coast, from Maine to Florida. But the portion of the heavily-traveled highway that circles around Washington on the perimeter highway that is known as the “Beltway” are always backed up around holidays with drivers who are either leaving town or passing through on their way to destinations that are further north or south.
Despite the fact that the Beltway has been entered in the nation’s political lexicon, the highway that allows I-95 to bypass Washington never crosses the cities borders with Maryland or Virginia.
Keith Laing writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.