Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Austin Traffic's Most Costly Delays

So which roads in the Austin area rank as the most congested? According to TxDOT, they're probably the ones you expect. 590 KLBJ is reporting that the Texas Department of Transportation has released a list (available here) of the 100 most congested roadway segments in Texas, based on the annual weekday hours of delay per mile. As might be expected, the Houston and Dallas areas take the top spots, but Austin, of course, has its fair share of roads on the list. All of these roads have a "Texas Congestion Index" of well over 1.0; this is an index of travel times during congestion versus travel times at, say, four in the morning. (If you ask me, most of the Texas Congestion Index values for these roads are woefully low; unfortunately, TxDOT didn't ask me.)

Most of these roads are projected to get a lot worse (TCI readings of up to 3.00, meaning a trip during rush hour would take three times as long as during non-rush hours) by the year 2028. Luckily, TxDOT's page very helpfully also points out what plans it has for each of those roads to improve them, hopefully to prevent a whole lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by frustrated Texas commuters.

Unluckily, a lot of the Travis/Williamson County roads listed do not have a lot of improvements scheduled anytime soon, or even at all, for some of them. Let's take a look:

  • I-35 between Ben White and US 183 (#26): TCI of 1.41, projected to be 2.25 by 2028. Projected improvements: none. That's right, TxDOT, CAMPO, and whoever else is responsible for this mess are going to do nothing about it. There's a reason I use TX 130 to skip this mess whenever possible between 3 and 7.
  • Mopac between US 183 and US 290 (#44): TCI of 1.31, 2.01 by 2028. Projected improvements: building of managed lanes (that means HOV or HOT lanes). Find a carpooling buddy, commuters. The first projected bid date for this is December 2013. (Aside: it really bugs me when people call US 290 "Ben White" in that area. Ben White Blvd. officially ends at Lamar. Yeah, I suppose I am a roadgeek.)
  • I-35 between US 183 and Howard Ln. (#45): TCI of 1.30, 1.97 by 2028. Projected improvements: 1) widen the frontage road in one area; and 2) reconstruct the Parmer interchange. From experience, I know that the Parmer/I-35 interchange is nasty. It used to take me 15 minutes just to get through there going westbound at 5:30pm. So, I'm sure any improvement would be appreciated by thousands of people (well, once it's done, I guess).
  • Mopac between TX 45 and Parmer Ln. (#48): TCI of 1.27, 1.44 by 2028. First of all, I find this hard to believe, as Mopac north of Parmer is a toll road, and I have never seen it congested. (Feel free to correct me on this point, Mopac commuters.) Projected improvements: none.
  • US 183 between Mopac and I-35 (#49): TCI of 1.28, 2.08 by 2028. Again, I don't normally see this road backed up during rush hour (though it certainly is north of Mopac). Projected improvements: managed lanes, bidding in 2013.
  • I-35 between Howard Ln. and the north edge of Round Rock (#53): TCI of 1.27, 1.99 by 2028. Projected improvements: the rest of the direct connectors to TX 45, bidding in 2012.
  • Southwest Pkwy between Vega and Mopac (#54): TCI of 1.29, not projected to 2028. Well, this makes sense, given that you have a six-lane road ending at a traffic light where everyone is forced into one lane if they want onto Mopac. Not really the best plan, if you ask me. Projected improvements: none. I suppose you could always use Boston Ln. to cut over to US 290 and skip the lights, but that has its own problems.
  • Loop 360 from US 183 to RM 2222 (#55): TCI of 1.35, 1.50 by 2028. Obviously there are no projected improvements to 360, given that CAMPO is still trying to figure out what they'll do with the road. Till then, find a good radio station, I guess.
  • Loop 360 from RM 2222 to RM 2244 (#61): TCI of 1.33, 1.50 by 2028. Apparently it gets better if you are going southbound. Projected improvements: see above.
  • US 183 from RM 1431 to the Travis/Williamson county line (#64): TCI of 1.33, 1.48 by 2028. Projected improvements: the aforementioned managed lanes, starting at Lakeline Blvd. (Aside: seriously, 183 from the county line to Mopac isn't on here? Something's gotta be wrong with that.)
  • RM 620 from US 183 to RM 2222 (#70): TCI of 1.37, 1.86 by 2028. I suppose the much worse congestion in twenty years is to be expected; I wouldn't think any of those traffic lights will go away. Projected improvements: extend the Texas 45 freeway west to El Salido Pkwy. (Yet another aside: I'm sure 45 will be tolled, but it's still a "freeway"...traffic moves freely, or at least w/out traffic signals or cross streets.)
  • US 290 from "Oak" (I think this means Oak Hill) to RM 1826 (#72): TCI of 1.32, 1.44 by 2028. No projected improvements shown, but I think CAMPO and TxDOT are still figuring out how to make that part of 290 into a freeway, so something's going to be different by then (we can only hope).
  • FM 1325 from I-35 to Merrilltown Dr. (#78): TCI of 1.31, 1.56 by 2028. Really? Why is this here? Why aren't commuters using Mopac, which is, at most, a half-mile away? Yeah, I know, it's a toll road. Wouldn't you be saving time, and, therefore, money by using it anyway?
  • Loop 360 from RM 2244 to Mopac (#81): TCI of 1.30, 1.47 by 2028. Previous 360 comments apply.
Like I said, there aren't too many surprises here, although I think this congestion index is understating the delays present in some of these routes today, let alone 2028.

Obviously, TxDOT has its fair share of funding issues at present. Are more toll roads the answer? (Yes, I see you, Mike Dahmus.) How about raising the gas tax? (That's probably a non-starter in Texas at the moment.) How about mass transit? (Oh, right, we have Capital Metro.)

Or, is a paradigm shift in order? Is it possible that we'll see a majority of people shifting to telecommuting? (I'd like to; unfortunately, my home computer is older than my children combined.)

I don't know. All I know is that my Manchaca Road commute that used to be 15 minutes each way now averages 22-23 minutes as more and more structures go up in south Austin. That, and I know that we need to start this discussion now if we don't want to be seething in traffic in 2028.