FAIRFIELD — Business put me on I-95 on Sunday, a day when I used to count on clear sailing. And I was in luck — southbound. The road was clear, but for about 20 miles I watched northbound traffic backed up bumper to bumper, measuring progress in inches.
I was looking at those poor saps on the other side of the road, but I also knew I'd be in those lanes on the way home. I was imagining a two-hour return trip, missed dinner, wasted gas, lost work and family time, the whole aggravating ball of wax.
As it happened, the traffic had dissipated by the time I headed home, and it remained mysterious because I couldn't see any reason for the back-up in the first place.
The point is that we don't have a "rush hour" anymore — we have assured destruction in the mornings and late afternoons, and utter unpredictability at all other times. Don't assume just because it's 2 a.m. you'll have an easy cruise.
It's not just me who thinks that traffic is getting worse—the professionals confirm it. According to the Connecticut Post, the Washington-based traffic services provider INRIX ranked Bridgeport's traffic as the sixth worst in the U.S. last year. Tie-ups took an average 39 hours out of commuters' lives in 2012.
Does your daily travel take you through the Park City? Well, you added 16 percent to your travel time in the first quarter of 2013 (compared to the same period last year).
I know other parts of the state feel the pain, but the Bridgeport-Stamford corridor really is the worst. It accounts for nearly half of the state's traffic delays, and even made the Daily Beast's "America's 50 Worst Commutes" list in 2011 (seventh place). In Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, tie-ups result in 48 million hours of delay annually, and $971 million in lost productivity, reports the 2011 Urban Mobility Report.
There's more. The Merritt/Wilbur Cross is a nightmare. It was America's 120th most congested corridor in 2012. Believe it or not, I-95 is a bit better — a Thursday morning 10.8-mile odyssey between Fairfield and Darien (close to my own commute for years) has only a 15-minute delay (making it the 154th worst commute in the country). But I can say without fear of contradiction that it's often much worse than that, even away from rush hours.
There is no quick fix. Even widening the roads wouldn't work. The only possible solution is to get people out of their cars, which will only happen with viable public transportation solutions. And the alternatives have to be affordable — driving is still, despite the problems, massively more convenient and cheaper for most Connecticut residents than taking the train or bus.