A Short-Term Fix for Congestion in Connecticut

Image: John Blyberg/Flickr

Connecticut has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. It has been argued that the solution is to add lanes to the state’s highways, but the idea that you can build your way out of congestion is slowly but surely going out of style.

If your goal is to reduce chronic, recurring congestion, you have to reduce demand for road space. And to do that, you need to put a price on it. There’s talk of bringing tolls back to Connecticut highways — not old fashioned toll booths, but open-road, all-electronic, variable-rate tolls — which could not only reduce congestion but also bring in some needed revenue. But as always when drivers are asked to pay more, there are political hurdles to consider.

This chronic, recurring congestion accounts for about half of the traffic jams that we experience. The other half is non-recurring congestion caused by “temporary disruptions that take away part of the roadway from use.” According to the Federal Highway Administration, about half of that non-recurring congestion (or 25 percent of all congestion) is caused by crashes and other unpredictable incidents like vehicle fires or sausage spills.

Not all crashes lead to congestion, but most do in some way or another. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatal crashes result in the closure of at least one lane of traffic 92 percent of the time on interstates and expressways in urban areas. Crashes in which someone is injured result in a lane closure 56 percent of the time, and crashes that result only in property damage result in lane closures 32 percent of the time. And even when lanes aren’t closed, rubbernecking can reduce road capacity by as much as 25 percent.

Lane closures due to crashes are quite common (and easy to track thanks to State Senator Bob Duff’s Twitter account) on Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway. Here’s just a sampling of crashes that led to lane closures on those roadways and others in the state from the last couple of weeks:

October 6

October 7

  • A multi-vehicle crash resulted in the closure of the left southbound lane on I-95 in Westport and caused traffic to back up for 18 miles during the morning commute.

October 10

  • A three-vehicle crash on I-95 north in Darien closed a northbound lane on I-95.

October 11

  • The Connecticut Post reported that two tractor-trailers collided on I-95 in Milford, causing two southbound lanes to close for 90 minutes, backing up traffic for about four miles.
  • There were lane closures on Interstate 84 and Route 8 that same morning.

October 14

  • A multi-vehicle crash on I-95 in Stamford:

October 15

October 17

  • A crash involving multiple vehicles on I-95 north in Norwalk:

  • And just four hours later, another crash involving multiple vehicles on the same stretch of I-95 in Norwalk:

October 18

  • Last Tuesday morning, two lanes were closed near Exit 3 on I-95 south in Greenwich for about 90 minutes after a crash involving a tractor-trailer and multiple vehicles. According to the Connecticut Post, the crash and ensuing lane closure slowed traffic to “speeds in the single numbers” and caused backups that “stretched several miles into Stamford.”

October 19

  • There were a pair of incidents on I-95 south during the afternoon peak on Wednesday: a tractor trailer broke down in the center lane between Exits 4 and 5 in Greenwich, and minutes later, a two-vehicle crash caused the left lane to close between Exits 8 and 9 in Stamford.
  • A two-car crash caused the southbound side of I-395 in Montville to be shut down for 40 minutes.

October 21

October 24

  • This morning, a crash in Bridgeport blocked the shoulder of I-95, and there was another incident (and ensuing lane closure) on the aforementioned section of the Merritt Parkway in Greenwich.

It could be years before Connecticut leaders invest political capital in reducing recurring congestion–that is, assuming lawmakers actually realize one day that tolling is indeed a worthy endeavor. In the meantime, drivers can play a small part in helping to reduce non-recurring congestion by heeding this simple advice: stop crashing into each other.

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