You know it when you see it: that piece of highway where everything slows to a crawl for no apparent reason, where it’s stop-and-go for miles but no crash in sight.
There are many reasons that traffic just won’t flow, and technology may provide some insight as to why. Using GPS, the trucking industry has identified the 100 worst bottlenecks in the U.S. highway system.
For those prone to complain about turgid traffic in the mightily congested urban sprawl that extends from Washington, D.C., north past Boston, there is news that no resident will believe.
Their home turf is home to just one of the county’s worst traffic choke points.
A bunch of the rest are in places that true traffic jam aficionados in the northeast sniff at in disdain: Baton Rouge; Tacoma, Washington; Nashville; and Seattle.
Yes, there are some of the expected heavy-hitters on the list of the top bottlenecks: Houston (five times), Atlanta (three times), Chicago (three times), and Los Angeles (twice).
The best the East Coast can do is the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 4 in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a town best remembered by people of a certain age as the home of Richard Feder, who was said to write to “Saturday Night Live’s” Roseanne Roseannadanna on a regular basis.
That juncture in Fort Lee is the second-worst bottleneck in the United States, according to data crunched by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), a nonprofit group associated with the American Trucking Associations federation. The institute uses GPS data gathered from more than 600,000 trucks.
“The truck bottlenecks are, quite frankly, car bottlenecks, because if the trucks are going that slowly, it’s very likely the cars are having to go that slowly as well,” said ATRI researcher Rebecca Brewster. “This is not just a trucking industry problem.”
For years, the No. 1 bottleneck in the nation was in Chicago, Brewster said. That intersection is in the midst of redesign reconstruction, she said, to some degree motivated by a desire not to lead the list. While work is underway, it still ranks third, and once that reconstruction is complete, Brewster said she thinks sheer volume will keep it in the top 100.
The worst bottleneck in the country is in Atlanta, where northbound Interstate 85 conspires with Interstate 285 to snarl traffic in what’s known as “spaghetti junction.” Fort Lee, Chicago (I-290 and I-90), Louisville (I-65 and I-64), Cincinnati (I-71 and I-75), Los Angeles (State 60 and State 57), Auburn, Washington, (State 18 and State 167), Houston (I-45 and U.S. 59), Atlanta (I-75 and I-285), and Seattle (I-5 and I-90) round out the top.
Other than Fort Lee, the fabled northeastern congestion doesn’t resurface on the bottleneck list until Brooklyn weighs in at 37th with the conjunction of I-278 and the Belt Parkway. The Washington, D.C., region, which usually ranks among the most congested in the country, gets only a couple of mentions in the top 100. The juncture of I-95 and I-495 northbound makes the list at 64th, and the intersection of the Capital Beltway and I-270 eastbound hits the list at 86th.
As President Donald Trump and his new transportation secretary designee, Elaine Chao, set out to sort out the kinks in the country’s often overburdened infrastructure, truckers hope their list of bottlenecks will provide them with targets to fix.
“This ATRI analysis should be a guide for deciding what projects are worthy of funding,” said Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations. “Ensuring the safe and efficient movement of goods should be a national priority, and this report draws attention to the places where our highway network needs improvement in order to meet that goal.”