Avoid These Roads!: Top 10 Bottlenecks in the New York City Region


Traveling in and around the New York City area this holiday season? Make sure you avoid these roads. A recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute identified the most congestion-prone corridors in the nation. Using this data, the Rudin Center has developed a list of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the Tri-State area to help you plan ahead and get where you’re going on time. These corridors were ranked based on the Texas Transportation Institute’s Buffer Index, a measure of how much additional time should be allocated for travel along these corridors to account for traffic congestion.

The Christmas holiday season is one of the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year, as tens of millions of Americans will be traveling long distances each day during a two-week period. A 2001 study by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics identified that 9 out of 10 Americans who travel long-distances during the holiday season do so by car, and long-distance travel during the Christmas holidays is 23% higher than that of other periods. The 2001 study also identified the weekend before Christmas was the busiest travel days of the holiday period, with 93% more long-distance trips than the daily average on Saturday, or December 22. Thus, travelers driving in and around New York City both during and after the holiday season should take note of these ten worst traffic bottlenecks in the region.

  • The Bronx-bound Whitestone Expressway and the northbound Hutchinson River Parkway are tied for the worst traffic bottlenecks of any corridor in the Tri-State area. The two-lane northbound “Hutch” in Westchester County requires motorists to plan for a trip three times longer than normal along the corridor to guarantee on-time arrival at the end of the route.
  • While part of the Whitestone Expressway from Flushing to the Bronx is twice as wide as the “Hutch,” it is just as prone to crippling congestion during peak traffic hours, and also requires motorists to plan for a trip that’s three times as long as expected.
  • Traveling north out of the city during an evening rush hour? Pick your poison. The northbound Henry Hudson Parkway, FDR Drive, and Major Deegan Expressway are all equally unreliable and all experience peak congestion from 3 pm to 7 pm on a typical weekday.
  • The longest traffic bottleneck among the top 10 in the region is southbound I-95, including the notorious Cross-Bronx Expressway and the Jersey-bound George Washington Bridge. Evening commutes along this route can be a nightmare, as motorists must plan to travel 24 minutes more (about 40 minutes total) along this 11-mile corridor to guarantee on-time arrival.
  • Heading into Lower Manhattan early in the morning? Make sure you avoid the Pulaski Skyway approach to the Holland Tunnel. This 3.3 mile corridor is the least reliable stretch of highway in the entire state of New Jersey, and requires motorists to plan for at least 10 more minutes of travel.

Toll Debate Heats Up in the West



Each day, nearly 24,000 vehicles race through a 30 mile stretch of Interstate-15 that pierces the northwestern corner Arizona. This segment of the highway – known as the “Arizona Strip” – looks much like the rest of I-15 as it traverses through the Mojave Desert, serving as a vital freight link between Southern California and points West. Many drivers don’t even know they have entered Arizona.

One-fourth of traffic on the Arizona Strip is freight trucks. Photo courtesy of Gannett.


But the state ignited a firestorm of controversy when it submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation last week to begin tolling that 30-mile segment for everyone but Arizona residents.

In documents submitted to the federal government’s tolling and pricing office, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) states that it is seeking to participate in the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. That program, authorized in 1998, allows up to three segments of the Interstate Highway System to be tolled by states to finance roadway improvements or expansion. Two other states have been granted permission to toll Interstate highways: Interstate 70 in Missouri and Interstate 95 in Virginia.

Detail of Arizona's proposed project area. Courtesy of ADOT.

ADOT contends that a new toll would raise up to $393 million over a 30 year period to fund vital roadway improvements, including bridge superstructure improvement, pavement rehabilitation, and safety enhancements. In its application, ADOT admits that tolling existing interstate capacity is “not popular,” but that a new source of revenue is necessary to carry out necessary improvements and tolling is the “most equitable method of accomplishing it on this very unique and isolated section of roadway.”

The proposal was immediately criticized by officials in neighboring Utah and Nevada. “If Arizona has been negligent in its maintenance of I-15, it should not try and foist its responsibility onto highway users or neighboring states who already pay into the system with their own tax dollars” Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert said in a prepared statement. The Las Vegas Review-Journal called the plan a “money grab…built on the backs of Nevada and Utah residents and commercial haulers.”

With shrinking revenues and constricted budgets, however, many states do not have other options to finance necessary highway improvements. Several states, most recently Virginia, have pursued public-private partnerships to begin tolling segments of existing state highways or newly constructed Interstate highways.

It’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing.  According to the Federal Highway Administration figures, 32 states have developed a total of 280 toll projects between 1991 and 2009, roughly divided between newly constructed toll highways and toll-backed improvements to existing facilities. Toll roads now account for nearly one-half of newly constructed access-controlled expressways.

As Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell explained after his state received approval to begin tolling a segment of Interstate-95, “limited funds and growing capital and maintenance needs have led to deficient pavement and structures, congestion, higher crash density, and safety concerns. This approval is a major step toward funding critical capacity and infrastructure investment needed in this corridor.”

Long Commutes in the New York City Region: Explaining how we commute in New York City and the surrounding suburbs

Photo Credit: Suzy Allman for the New York Times

Recently, the Census Bureau released a comprehensive report describing how Americans traveled to work in 2009. Once again, the New York metropolitan area was ranked as having the longest average commute in the country at 34.6 minutes, followed by Washington DC and Poughkeepsie. Great Falls, Montana has the shortest commute time of 14.2 minutes. Some have jumped to the conclusion that the New York region has the worst commute in the country simply because it has the longest, but a closer at the “Journey to Work” data can help explain the long commute lengths.

(Data Source: US Census Bureau 2009 American Community Survey)

The figure above shows that residents in the New York City region are far more reliant on transit to get to work on a daily basis: 2.7 million commuters take transit to get to work on a daily basis, and 300,000 rely on a commuter rail system that primarily serves suburban areas. Transit commutes, on average, are more than 20 minutes longer than car commutes. In particular, since commutes by rail in the region average 70 minutes in length (almost three times as long as an average car commute in the country), and 43% of all rail commutes in the U.S. take place in the New York City region, where the modal share for commuter rail is almost seven times as high as the national average. It is clear that the high share of transit, particularly rail, commutes is responsible for skewing the average commute lengths, rather than congested roads or poor accessibility to job locations.

Among those who commute to Manhattan, the numbers are even more skewed towards transit modes: 73.2% of Manhattan workers take public transit to get to work according to 2009 Census data, a proportion that is more than 14 times as high as the transit modal share for commuters nationwide. The share of Manhattan commuters traveling by rail is 11.7%, which is more than 21 times as high as the rail modal share for commuters nationwide.

In July 2011, the prominent urban economist Richard Florida introduced several explanations of commuting mode shares and lengths in New York and other U.S. metropolitan areas, such as population density, weather and climate, residential development patterns, and occupational characteristics. However, he curiously did not mention job location patterns as an explanation of how we commute, since after all, the purpose of these trips is to get to the workplace in the most efficient and convenient way.

The New York City metropolitan area is unique because a high concentration of well-paying jobs are still located in a central business district such as Midtown Manhattan, whereas in other regions in the country, job opportunities are more dispersed in “technoburbs” and “edge cities.” Therefore, residents of the New York region, particularly those living in the suburban areas, still rely heavily on mass transit to get to work: a recent Forbes study ranked the top public transportation cities in the country by modal use, and all but two municipalities of the Top 10 were in the New York City region. These municipalities not only included New York and nearby cities such as Hoboken and Jersey City, but also distant suburbs such as Great Neck and Bronxville, located along major commuter rail lines such as LIRR and MetroNorth. Thus, transit is not only essential for commuting among city residents, but also residents of suburban areas and “bedroom communities” in New Jersey, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley, who take short drives to the nearest park-and-ride lot and take the train or express bus into Manhattan. These commutes are long, but convenient enough for suburban residents to choose them over a long, stressful, and increasingly expensive drive into the city.

In cities with more dispersed job locations, the best and, in most cases, the only way to gain access to those jobs is by driving, due to transit systems that provide limited, unreliable, or non-existent services to job locations. In metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Raleigh-Durham, job opportunities are not concentrated in the downtown central business district but dispersed across the region in office parks and strip malls off arterial roads. Thus, the most practical and sensible way to access the workplace is to drive.

These maps below show how job locations could play a major role in determining commuting travel modes and lengths.

NEW YORK CITY (jobs primarily clustered in traditional “C.B.D.” in Manhattan)

BAY AREA (metro area with high transit use, jobs clustered in traditional “C.B.D.”)

DALLAS (notice the dispersion of job locations along interstates, beltways, and arterials)

OKLAHOMA CITY (again, notice the distribution of jobs along major highways)