Sorting out the most congested roads in the Lone Star State

If you’re reading this while stuck in traffic at the intersection of the 610 Loop around Houston between Interstate 10 and the Southwest Freeway, you’re in good company: it’s the most congested  stretch of highway in Texas for the second year running.

And if you’re on Interstate 35 near Austin, you’re driving on what has been deemed the worst  stretch for trucks once again.

That’s the conclusion of this year’s report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute compiling the list of the state’s most congested roadways. The report determines the rankings, according to the Institute, based on “the time it takes to travel on a congested roadway against the time needed to travel the same corridor in uncongested conditions.”

It’s the type of list one might not expect to have major changes in year-to-year comparisons. It does. But the 3.62 miles on I-10 near downtown Houston isn’t one of them. It remained No. 1 for all delays for the second consecutive year. (As an indication of just what a major highway that road is, west of that intersection on the Katy Freeway, which is what I-10 is known as, the road widens to 26 lanes at one point if frontage road lanes are included).

But from the perspective of truckers, what is of greater interest is the report’s study of truck delays, particularly when they do not correlate perfectly with the overall ranking of the most congested spots. For example, that road near the I-10/LOOP interchange might be the first overall, but it is fourth for truck delays.

The most congested roadway for trucks in Texas is the almost 8 miles between I-35 and U.S. Highway 290 in Austin. It ranked second overall for delays and has gotten worse relative to other roads; it was third overall in 2018. But as far as a bad stretch for truckers, not much has changed. It has been the worst stretch for trucks in Texas every year since 2014.

Source: Texas A&M Transportation Institute

The growth in Laredo, at the U.S.-Mexico border, is significant. In Webb County, the 2.77 miles of the Bob Bullock Loop between the border and I-35 reported delays for truckers that were third in 2019 but 191st for all vehicles. The truck rank as recently as 2014 was 304th.

Growth in traffic in the Austin area is notable as well. While stretches of highway in Harris County (Houston) and Dallas County take most of the top spots, the roughly 4 miles on I-35 between state Highway 71 and Slaughter Lane  jumped to 10th overall in worst delays from 19th a year before. It is also the sixth-worst stretch for truckers. Another almost 4-mile stretch in Austin, on U.S. 290 between RM 1826 and the South MoPac Expressway, jumped to 29th overall from 53rd the year before. (But it’s not a major truck route; it was 138th overall for trucks.)

According to the study, “trucks are a small part of some very congested commuter freeway corridors.” It cited Austin’s MoPac Freeway, Dallas’ Woodall Rodgers Freeway and San Antonio’s McAllister Freeway as examples. But given its proximity to the Mexican border, “truck congestion is a significant part of most Laredo corridors, and many urban Interstate corridors.”

For example, the route on the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in Dallas between I75 and North Beckley Avenue, which is downtown and only about 1.5 miles long, was fifth overall but 71st for truckers. A 10-mile stretch of the MoPac Expressway in Austin was 31st overall but 422nd for truckers.

The study is extremely detailed in the cost categories of the congestion: annual hours of delay (all and truck), peak period annual hours of truck delay, as well as off-peak hours of delay, annual congestion cost and annual excess fuel used due to congestion. It also lists the truck-only peak period average speed, which generally ranges between 35 and 40 mph.

The gateway to all the data is here.