Thursday, April 24, 2014

Southern California's Easter Sunday Traffic Gridlock

Countless numbers of travelers hit the roads last Easter Sunday and freeway gridlock which lasted well into the late night hours is evidence of that. The congestion was so bad in some areas that it began to look like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the typical Friday afternoon commute combined in some areas. It was very easy to assume that maybe some sig-alerts or collisions caused the traffic nightmares, but there were simply a lot of people out on the freeway heading back home from Easter dinner all at the same time. In contrast to the typical rush hour commute, an interesting fact behind holiday traffic is that a very high percentage of the cars on the road are high occupancy vehicles with at least two persons.

Here are some facts of what the highways looked like after dinner or from 8-10PM on the holiday:

SR-91 & I-15 Freeways
Photo: OCTA

The eastbound 91 and southbound I-15 linking Orange County to the Southwest region via Corona looked like a typical Friday afternoon. The corridor was very slow coming out of Yorba Linda all the way through Anaheim Hills and Corona, finally opening up past Temescal Canyon. The traffic cleared out after 10PM.

We have reasons to believe the FasTrak toll transponder mandate for 3+ HOV's which travel toll-free on the 91 Express Lanes during this time may have contributed to the chaos though the Orange County segment. That notion has not been completely proven, but it's certainly possible given that the 91 through Anaheim Hills has a total of seven lanes (five general purpose, two 3+ HOT express lanes) each way, enough to handle a maximum of about 14,500 cars per hour.

Going the other way was very miserable. It was gridlocked. The I-15 was very heavy coming out of Temecula and was bumper-to-bumper from Central Avenue in Lake Elsinore all the way to the 91. The 91 west was stop-and-go from the I-15 all the way to Green River Road. It finally opened up through Anaheim Hills. The gridlock there cleared out well after 11PM. HOT Express lanes are planned for this segment and these are more reasons why such toll lanes need to support free non-transponder carpooling; the numerous volumes of HOV's that travel on Easter and major holidays, most of which are domestic "fam-pools" should have full and free access to the freeway infrastructure and its HOV/HOT express lanes. That is the fair and just thing to do to handle extraordinary holiday traffic congestion on top of enticing the private sector into offering better intercity transit services. We'll debate more on fam-pools and access to carpool lanes next week.

Other Inland Empire Freeways
  • The northbound I-215 in between Moreno Valley and Riverside had some pockets of slowing but things were relatively moving in those regions.
  • In the high desert, the southbound I-15 was very tough through the Cajon Pass, heavy from Hesperia to Devore. SANBAG has HOT lanes planned for this corridor.
  • The I-10 freeway between the Inland Empire and the Coachella Valley was actually moving good; the traffic reports had all green dots there.
  • The Ortega Highway was also busy, but was a good drive between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano.

Los Angeles County

Many segments in Los Angeles County also had areas of traffic trouble. The westbound lanes of the I-10, SR-60, SR-91 and I-210 were all slow-and-go going into Los Angeles. Like the 91 Express Lanes, the ill-advised toll transponder mandate imposed on the free 2+ HOV's for the I-10 Metro ExpressLanes may have contributed to the slowing on the I-10 general purpose lanes through El Monte as several HOV's were displaced from the HOT lanes.  The southbound I-5 through the Newhall Pass was also heavy from SR-126 to the I-405, and some other freeway segments were slow. Surprisingly enough, the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass wasn't too bad with some areas of slow-and-go over the hill.

Orange and San Diego County

All of the freeways throughout most of Orange and San Diego counties were moving fast including I-15 between San Diego and Escondido. That corridor has five general purpose and two HOT 2+ Express Lanes each way and carries more vehicles than the 91. The I-15 Express Lanes also supports free non-transponder carpooling. That meant that travelers with at least 2 people in the car could hop in for free and go. All lanes were moving quickly.

Even though both these counties were glowing green for the most part, there was one huge exception. The northbound I-5 through Camp Pendleton was bumper-to-bumper for the entire stretch, from Carlsbad all the way to the Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano. That's one of the most extensive back-up's we've seen. The traffic finally cleared out after 11PM. Southbound I-5 was slow from San Juan Capistrano into San Clemente. A single 2+ carpool lane each way is coming to the I-5 through San Clemente in multiple phases. Long-range HOT lanes are envisioned between San Clemente and Oceanside by 2050; we hope that comes much sooner.

Our Neighbors

The Bay Area freeways had some tough spots too. The most notable was congestion going both ways on the Oakland Bay Bridge, the northbound 101 from Gilroy to Morgan Hill and the westbound 580 from Tracy to Livermore.

East of us, Las Vegas' freeways were all glowing green. The freeways in the entire Phoenix Valley were fast except for one minor backup on the connector between the southbound Loop 101 and eastbound I-10 west of downtown Phoenix. To the north, the Portland/Vancouver region was good. Up in Washington State, with the minor exception of some slowing through Marysville, Seattle's freeways were all moving quickly.

We've likely topped the list again for having the worst traffic conditions

We were not able to check to see how traffic fared in the Eastern United States, but it's safe to predict that we've once again topped the list of having among the worst traffic congestion in the nation during Easter. The irony behind all of this is that the citizens in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona pay less in transportation and fuel taxes and fees than we do here. The Phoenix Valley is also seeing a bigger uptick in economic growth and also had its days of urban sprawl and unchecked growth in the surrounding suburbs, but their better-developed transit and highway infrastructure were able to handle the Easter Sunday traffic.

We all know that with the records amount of money that we Californians hand over to the the state taxman to get around, we really should have highway and HOV infrastructure that can handle the Easter rush and our statewide intercity transit services should be abundant which includes high speed intercity and regional rail. But that money keeps on getting displaced or overspent.

Can you take a guess of where that money gets diverted?

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