Every year the Texas Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, releases a list of the most congested roadways in the state. The list is always dominated by roadway segments in Dallas and Houston, along with Interstate 35 in Austin. This year’s list is still dominated by the five major metropolitan areas in Texas, but it now includes critical analyses of more than 25 urban areas in the state.
With just over two months to go before a critical November vote on Proposition 1, which would pump billions into transportation funding, it comes as no surprise the study, known as Texas’ 100 Most Congested Roadways, was expanded to include 1,783 roadway segments in many smaller markets, including McLennan County.
This will no doubt build support for Proposition 1 across a much broader area of the state rather than pigeon-hole the debate as a “big-city” problem. Rural voters are more consistent than urban voters, so support for Proposition 1 is necessary in other parts of Texas, too. The easiest way to build support for a cause is to make it local, and the new congestion index does just that.
The 2014 version of the list of congested roadways in Texas breaks down multiple factors used to define congestion, and assigns dollar and time figures to each segment included in the report. It extrapolates how much time is wasted sitting in I-35 traffic in Austin, for example, as well as how much extra fuel is burned and how much additional pollution is introduced into the atmosphere as a result of gridlocked traffic along that segment.
McLennan County has 25 entries on the list of 1,783 road segments studied. The most congested road in McLennan County is Valley Mills Drive, from Bosque Boulevard to I-35. Number two is Hewitt Drive, from Waco Drive (Highway 84) to the Sun Valley turnoff. They rank 656th and 660th on the statewide list, respectively.
Most of the McLennan County road segments that made the statewide list are in and around Waco, with most of the others near the southern end of the county. There are a number of Lake Air Drive, Waco Drive and I-35 segments on the list. Most of the I-35 segments are located north of Waco in the Bellmead area.
As for Valley Mills, it ranks 656th on the congestion index for ordinary vehicles but is No. 84 statewide on the congestion index for trucks. Apparently, driving a truck down Valley Mills is a much bigger challenge than driving an ordinary car. Hewitt Drive is one of the fastest growing commercial corridors in the area, and the index reflects that. The average uncongested speed is 37 miles per hour. The average congested speed is 29 miles per hour. Presumably, if you’re driving into Waco from Hewitt, you’re losing eight miles per hour in speed each day because of congestion. (Good excuse for the next time you’re late for work.)
For the record, the 3.1-mile stretch of Interstate 610 on the west side of Houston, from I-10 to U.S. 59, is the most congested road in the state. It surpasses last year’s “winner,” I-35 in Austin from U.S. 290 to SH 71 (Ben White Boulevard), which fell to No. 2. Take heart, Austin, you’re still No. 1 when it comes to truck traffic delays.
Five of the top 10 congested roads are in Dallas, four are in Houston and one is in Austin. Five of top 10 are part of I-35. In fact, I-35 is the most congested road overall on the list. Sixteen of the top 75 most congested roads in Texas are part of I-35. More than 25 percent of the roads on the list are either a segment of I-35 or involve an interchange with it.
The report from Texas A&M stands in direct support of Proposition 1, a measure that would capture half of new oil and gas revenues and earmark them for transportation funding. This year’s expanded report also does a pretty decent job of illustrating that congestion is more than a Dallas, Houston and Austin problem. In Waco we see it every day along I-35. It doesn’t take much of an event on I-35 to stack up traffic for miles and, with construction projects both north and south of town, those backups impact traffic throughout the city quite frequently.
According to the report, vehicle traffic has grown 172 percent in Texas since 2000, while growth in highways is up only 19 percent. Proposition 1 backers want voters to associate the perils of congestion in two ways. First, congestion exists in smaller cities, too. Second, what happens in the five major urban areas of Texas impacts the state’s economy as a whole.
They’ll get no argument from me on either point.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.