Trucking speeds dropped an average of nearly 9 percent in 2018 because congestion worsened along the nation’s busiest freight roadways, the American Transportation Research Institute reported in its annual study of traffic bottlenecks.
The worst chokepoint in the nation was the intersection of Interstate 95 and State Route 4 in Fort Lee, N.J., where the 2018 rush hour speed was 23 mph, down almost 8 percent from 2017.
The ranking was based on speed and how many trucks are affected by the slowdown. Three of the top 10 most congested locations were in the Atlanta area. The I-285 and I-85 interchange, known as Spaghetti Junction, had been the top bottleneck for three consecutive years.
ATRI’s Top Truck Bottleneck List uses global positioning satellite data from nearly 1 million heavy trucks and data from trucking operations to rank the effects of congestion at 300 locations on the nation’s highway system.
‘Worst pain points’
“ATRI’s research shows us where the worst pain points are – but they are far from the only ones,” said Chris Spear, chief executive of the American Trucking Associations. ATRI Is the association’s research arm.
In a study last year, ATRI found that waiting in traffic jams on U.S. highways keeps the equivalent of 425,533 truck drivers sitting idle for a year.
“For UPS, if all of our vehicles are delayed just five minutes a day, every day, it costs our company $114 million a year,” said Rich McArdle, president of UPS Freight.
ATRI’s goal in creating the list is to help federal and state transportation officials prioritize where to spend money for infrastructure improvements.
After the chokepoint at I-290 and I-90/I-94 in Chicago was named the No. 1 bottleneck in 2011 and 2013, Illinois decided to improve conditions. It ranked seventh on the study released this year. Rebecca Brewster, ATRI President, said it would drop from the Top 10 once construction is completed.
“You’re never going to solve congestion,” said Jeff Shefchik, president of Paper Transport Inc. in De Pere, Wis. “The hours-of-service (rules) make it more challenging because the driver doesn’t have the flexibility to drive through that city at peak hours once his 14-hour clock starts.”
Some trucking companies have switched the methods by which they pay drivers when their routes regularly encounter long traffic delays.
“When they get held up, we’re paying them by the hour,” said William Hupp, chief operating officer of Estes Express Lines, a private less-than-truckload carrier based in Richmond, Va. “It really becomes the driver’s challenge to deal with it the best way they know how.”
Carriers such as Cowan Systems are trying to figure out how to compensate drivers for congestion. Many of Cowan’s trucks travel through the heavily congested five boroughs of New York and across the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee, N.J.
“How do you create a pay system that’s fair when you have congestion like that?” asked Joseph Cowan, chief executive of the Baltimore-based carrier. “We have to do the right thing so we can attract the driver. A driver can’t make anything with mileage pay operating in the five boroughs.”
Top Congested States
Texas led all states with 13 of the Top 100 most-congested interchanges, followed by California with seven. Connecticut, Georgia and Washington state had six each.
After Fort Lee, the cities with the worst bottlenecks were:
2. Atlanta: I-285 at I-85 North
3. Atlanta: I-75 at I-285 North
4. Los Angeles: SR 60 at SR 57
5. Houston: I-45 at I-69/U.S. 59
6. Cincinnati: I-71 at I-75
7. Chicago: I-290 at I-90/I-94
8. Nashville: I-24/I-40 at I-440 East
9. Atlanta: I-20 at I-285 West
10. Los Angeles: I-710 at I-105