When it comes to traffic problems, no one is going to confuse Sherman or Denison with Dallas or Houston. But that doesn’t make North Texas immune to the headaches associated with rush hour, an anecdotal fact now turned objective thanks to new research from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
This year marked the first time the Institute took an expanded look in its annual traffic study, looking beyond Texas’ well-defined urban areas. The 2014 study ranked more than 1,800 travel corridors throughout the state based on their congestion levels, including 20 in the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Area.
“This year, this was different because we did look at roads outside the big metro areas,” said David Schrank, one of the researchers involved in the project. “What we did (in Grayson County) is look at connectivity on a map. We know obviously (U.S. Highway) 75 is kind of our starting point and your trunk road, and then the arterial streets go out from there. Then we talked to the local district of TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation and also the (Sherman-Denison) Metropolitan Planning Organization and said, ‘What do you think about this list? Would you add any roads; would you do anything differently?’ … You’re going to capture a lot of the big movement if you focus on connectivity.”
Using GPS speed data collected by a Washington-based company called INRIX, the study found significant local delays caused by traffic during peak hours, particularly on West Morton Street through Denison and on Texoma Parkway. Morton Street alone costs local motorists 115,107 hours each year, with traffic delays responsible for 75,337 gallons of extra gas. Those numbers, combined with the street’s relatively short distance of 2.8 miles, make it the most congested road in the area.
For Texoma Parkway, which runs 8.4 miles, the numbers were 174,560 hours of delay and 104,425 gallons of gas. FM 1417 through Sherman, which ranked as the third most congested local road, was responsible for 199,621 lost hours and 96,338 gallons of gas, according to the study.
Researchers broke-out the percentage of delay for each corridor’s truck traffic, a metric Schrank said transportation officials often use to determine where to prioritize road funding. Among the 20 corridors studied, U.S. Highway 69 from Highway 75 through north Denison to Hanna Street was most prone to delays in truck traffic, with about 20 percent of delays involving semi-trucks. Texoma Parkway and Denison’s 503 Spur rounded out the top three in that category, with 19 and 18 percent truck traffic, respectively.
“Texas DOT wants to know where the big truck movements are and where there might be bottlenecks in our state’s freight system,” said Schrank. “It may be a policy decision later on that says, ‘If we’re trying to determine where to spend money, and this is an important corridor to the state’s economy, we might want to consider that.’”
While the study did not delve into prescriptions for reducing congestion, Shrank said there are numerous steps a city can take to help ease the pain, including taking a long, hard look at stoplight timing.
“There’s a lot of management-type activities that can go on that don’t necessarily involve pouring concrete,” said Schrank. “Improved signal operation, improved access management — that’s things like raised medians on arterial streets, more channelization for left-turners and right-turners. … Part of the reason for doing this kind of exercise is to provide information.”
Both Sherman and Denison deferred to TxDOT for ideas to improve the clogged roads, as all streets studied by the Institute are under the state organization’s control. Both Sherman Engineering Director Clay Barnett and Denison City Manager Robert Hanna, however, said the study could be a useful tool.
“This is important information and it should be used to develop future transportation improvement funding requests through the established process,” said Hanna.
Though the study was illuminating in pointing out local problem areas, it was equally instructive in reminding area residents how good they’ve got it, relatively speaking. While traversing Morton Street during rush hour will take a motorist about 28 percent longer than usual, that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the state’s worst roads. Interstate Highway 35 through Austin, which is the state’s most congested corridor, is 154 percent more congested during peak hours. Ranking second and third on the list, Interstate Highway 610 and U.S. Highway 59 in Houston are 143 percent and 134 percent worse.
And while losing 174,000 hours on Texoma Parkway isn’t ideal, at least it’s not Dallas. According to the study, DFW residents lost more than 195 million hours to highway and arterial traffic last year, burning 82.5 million gallons of gas. That’s about 29 hours for every man, woman and child.