Have you noticed how terrible our traffic is lately?
Not just in comparison to the empty roads and blue skies during the pandemic lockdown, but even compared to pre-COVID times.
The rush hour on I-95 starts earlier and runs later, pretty much all day long. The increased volume is due in large part to the return to the office but by car, not mass transit (where ridership is still only 50% of the good old days).
If there were easy answers to this congestion, they’d have been implemented by now. Look… this is really a matter of supply and demand: too much demand (highway traffic) and not enough supply (space on those roads).
But here are a few of the crazier ideas for fixing traffic I’ve heard suggested over the years:
1) Double deck I-95: Seriously, this was once proposed by the Stamford Chamber of Commerce. Can you imagine the decades of construction and billions in cost, with “upper level” roads having to soar hundreds of feet over existing overpasses?
2) Allow trucks on the Merritt Parkway: There are two words to explain why this can’t happen: low bridges.
3) Ban trucks from I-95: Trucks are high-occupancy vehicles delivering goods to the stores that you, in your single-occupancy vehicle, drive to so you can shop. No trucks, no goods, no shopping.
4) Drive in the emergency break-down lane: This was then-Gov. John Rowland’s idea and he even wasted a million dollars studying it. But if you think of that far right-hand lane instead as the “emergency rescue lane” you’ll see why this doesn’t make sense. This plan would also require re-striping existing traffic lanes to a narrower width, making driving more dangerous.
5) Widening I-95: Again, billions in cost and decades of construction. And if you build it, they will come. Traffic will expand to fill available space. Then what, a fifth lane?
I think there are better ideas for managing traffic congestion, some of them already being implemented:
Operational lanes: Adding a fourth lane from on-ramps to off-ramps gives traffic a better chance of merging on and off the highway without blocking the through-lanes.
Widening choke points: For example, the exit 14-15 mess in Norwalk. But this $42 million construction project, discussed since 2002, took almost five years to get built.
Add a zipper lane: Sure, this may require highway widening, but just one lane that’s reversible depending on demand, a system used effectively on the Tappan Zee Bridge before it was rebuilt.
Change commuting hours: Does everyone really need to work 9 am – 5 pm? How about starting earlier or later and spreading out the traffic? Your employer should understand and you’ll be happier and more productive.
As I say, there are no simple solutions to highway congestion. It’s easy to identify the problems. But fixing them will always be expensive.
Jim Cameron is Founder of the Commuter Action Group, advocates for Connecticut rail riders.