Defying Logic with Widened Highways

Speaking from a logical standpoint, easing the pressure of rush hour traffic does not entail widening highways. However, after spending an estimated $4.5 million, Dallas, Texas, transportation planners proved that this is, in fact, a viable solution.

Highway-101-from-Ralston

As part of a new undertaking last September, the Texas Department of Transportation started working on a stretch of State Highway 161 that runs between Fort Worth and Dallas. The focus of the project was to repave the shoulders on both sides with the anticipation of helping rush hour traffic flow better.

During the heaviest traveled times, the extra shoulders were opened, allowing traffic to move freely. In addition, the DOT provided tow truck drivers to stand by in the event that any cars broke down. According to gathered data just released, the widened highway has greatly improved the flow of rush hour traffic.

Going Against the Grain

Typically, widening highways does nothing to lessen the burden of heavy traffic. In fact, there are many reports of it making matters worse. Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute located in British Columbia, said the situation in Dallas is unique since this was not the traditional way in which a highway is widened nor is it a permanent solution by an agency in search of making money.

Although the outcome of the new State Highway 161 has already been positive, the full effect of the work has not yet been realized. Obviously, people need and want to get to different locations, so creating more lanes usually leads to a greater volume of traffic. While a widened highway may provide relief initially, as more and more people realize the change, the amount of traffic increases significantly.

Even in California, where traffic is often a problem, DOT officials admit that building a way out of congestion is simply not feasible. Litman said that it took a lot of time to get people from the community to go along with the idea of repaving the highway shoulders, but now they can see incredible results.

From a position of realism, it appears that the Dallas project should have failed miserably, but in fact, it succeeded for two specific reasons.

  • First, bottlenecked traffic on State Highway 161 is a particular problem in that this two-lane stretch has connections with three-lane highways. However, by opening the shoulders during rush hour, choke points of getting into a tighter space were eliminated.
  • Second, the project was not actually successful. While that might sound strange, consider that in only a few days after the new lanes opened, the amount of traffic actually increased. Even so, traffic is moving faster. While there is more traffic, efficiency has greatly improved.

As an increasing number of locals begin to change their driving behavior by using the new lanes on State Highway 161, unmanageable congestion could return. However, this project has made life in Dallas easier for people who drive. Although spending billions on a new light rail system is always a possibility, it is clear to see that a less complex and less expensive project turned out to be an exceptional solution.

Taking a Nontraditional Approach

Ideas for dealing with congested highways such as this have been around for a long time, but as they are unconventional, most people shy away. Highways are a necessity, and with so many located throughout the country, transportation experts are looking for innovative ways to solve problems associated with rush hour traffic as well as tweak normal driving to make it better.

The bottom line is that what should have been a complete failure turned out to be successful. Instead of going with traditional solutions, Dallas has proven that it is time  for other transportation departments to start thinking outside of the box. According to transportation officials in Dallas, this project is proof that innovative thinking can go a long way in solving problems.

Based on the success of the Dallas highway project, perhaps other cities can follow suit. In addition to being a viable way of dealing with rush hour traffic, paving shoulders is a far more affordable option that is well worth consideration.

Original article: http://www.wired.com/2016/04/widening-highways-never-fixes-traffic-darnit-texas/