Blame the construction.
FORT WORTH â" A 3.7-mile stretch of Interstate 35W in Fort Worth topped a list of the 100 most congested roadways in Texas.
This is the fourth year the Texas Department of Transportation has released the list, but itâs the first time a strip of highway just north of downtown Fort Worth claimed the top spot. Last year, a portion of Woodall Rodgers Freeway in Dallas claimed the dubious honor. The year before it was a segment of I-45 in Houston.
Amanda Wilson, with the transportation division of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said ongoing construction on and near I-35 is the likely reason for the roadâs rise to No. 1 on the list from No. 8 two years ago. She noted that the Federal Highway Administration recently granted the highway environmental clearance to move forward with an expansion as part of a larger transportation project called the North Tarrant Express.
âOf course there will be construction for the next few years, but hopefully we can get that moved off from No. 1 soon,â Wilson said.
The Legislature ordered TxDOT to start compiling the annual list in 2009. For metropolitan planning agencies, entities set up around the state to guide major transportation projects, the rankings can help determine how it should spend its limited transportation dollars.
âPutting this list together allows them to get a real good look at the roadways that are in trouble and most congested,â said Mark Cross, a TxDOT spokesman.
To compile the list, researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute used 2011 speed data from Washington-based INRIX to determine traffic conditions at different times of the day on every road in the state. The economic cost in lost time and wasted fuel on the list's highways adds up to nearly $3 billion a year.
The list isnât just a guide to the worst commutes in the state. As road projects move up and down in the rankings, it reflects major shifts in driving patterns.
Often, a rise in congestion is a result of nearby construction projects slowing down traffic, said Tim Lomax, a researcher with the Transportation Institute. Other times, a road becomes more congested because of an expansion of a nearby road that feeds into it, causing both roads to draw more vehicles.
âWhat you see is this changing market area for trips thatâs responding to available capacity and lack of capacity,â Lomax said.
One of the biggest movers on the list is El Paso's Interstate 10 from US 54 to Loop 375. Two years ago, it was ranked No. 100. This year, itâs at No. 37.
Raymond Telles, the head of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority in El Paso, noted several factors that have probably led to the roadâs heavier use, including the relocation of thousands of U.S. soldiers to nearby Fort Bliss and heavy growth in east El Paso.
âWeâve got a lot of development out in east El Paso so you have a lot more folks coming from the east into downtown,â Telles said.
Itâs not all bad news for Texas drivers. While congestion is certainly increasing statewide as Texas' population increases, some of the worst roads are becoming less clogged.
Since 2010, a strip of FM 3487 from FM 471 to IH 410 in San Antonio dropped from No. 46 on TxDOTâs list to No. 96. That the road recently expanded from four lanes to six lanes is probably not a coincidence.
A stretch of U.S. Highway 290 from FM 1960 to FM 529 in Houston dropped 13 places on the list from No. 25 to No. 38 in the last two years. Lomax attributed that shift to the end of renovations on the nearby Katy Freeway. The construction on that road had earlier prompted thousands of drivers to temporarily use U.S. 290.
âBecause 290 was so terrible, it jumped up on the list,â Lomax said. âNow that Katy is finished, I donât think anyone says 290 is great but itâs not as terrible as it was.â
Click here for a sortable table, created by data reporter Ryan Murphy, that lists the 100 most congested roads in Texas.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Texas Tribune