The American Transport Research Institute (ATRI), known for its annual trucking surveys, has released its list for the worst trucking bottlenecks in 2020. The Department of Transportation hopes to use the information to better allocate spending dollars to critically-needed infrastructure. Here are the details and results of the endeavor.
ATRI collected and compiled GPS data from over 1 million freight trucks from 2020, an ample sample size considering approximately 40 million trucks were in operation for 2019.
Looking at the list without understanding how ATRI came up with its numbers can make the data seem random: how could a junction in San Bernardino, California with an average speed of 46.7 miles per hour be considered a worse bottleneck than a freeway in Austin, Texas with an average speed of 38.5 MPH? The full methodology can be read on their website, but the simplified version is the average speed multiplied by the number of trucks that travel through it in a 24-hour period. Because data is based on an unmitigated speed of 55 MPH, the San Bernardino junction had to have more than 50% more trucks travel through it for it to show up higher on the list than the Austin I-35, expressed as 12.5 divided by 8.3.
While the ranking is determined this way, there are supplemental data points to look at as well. The list shows average speeds for what it considers “peak hours” and “non-peak hours” for bottlenecks, as well as shows the change of peak speed from 2019 to 2020, expressed as a percentage.
This last piece of data will be especially unusual for 2020: with approximately half of the year (March-September) having “slow the spread” and “flatten the curve” mandates across the U.S., the total number of vehicles on the road throughout the year were lower than expected, allowing truckers across the nation to deal with less congestion.
The Top Ten Bottlenecks
Here are the results for the top ten worst bottlenecks in the USA. If you want to see the full list and check if your favorite traffic jam is on the list and where, you can check it out on their research webpage.
10. San Bernardino, CA I-10 to I-15 Junction
Average speed: 46.7 MPH
Peak average speed: 40.7 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 49.1 MPH
Peak average speed change: 25.1%
9. Rye, NY I-95 to I-287 Junction
Average speed: 47.5 MPH
Peak average speed: 45.7 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 48 MPH
Peak average speed change: 12%
8. St. Louis, MO I-64/I-55 to I-44 Junction
Average speed: 47.3 MPH
Peak average speed: 46.1 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 47.7 MPH
Peak average speed change: 10.1%
7. Chattanooga, TN I-75 at I-24 Junction
Average speed: 49.3 MPH
Peak average speed: 46.8 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 50.4 MPH
Peak average speed change: -1.8%
6. Chicago, IL I-290 at I-90/I-94 Junction
Average speed: 28.8 MPH
Peak average speed: 25.4 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 30.1 MPH
Peak average speed change: 57.6%
5. Houston, TX I-45 at I-69/US 59 Junction
Average speed: 40.2 MPH
Peak average speed: 31.4 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 44.1 MPH
Peak average speed change: 53.7%
4. Atlanta, GA 1-20 at I-285 (West) Junction
Average speed: 45.1 MPH
Peak average speed: 40.9 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 46.8 MPH
Peak average speed change: 12.6%
3. Atlanta, GA I-285 at I-85 (North) Junction
Average speed: 42.6 MPH
Peak average speed: 34.4 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 46.3 MPH
Peak average speed change: 53.5%
2. Cincinnati, OH I-71 at I-75 Junction
Average speed: 44.1 MPH
Peak average speed: 40.1 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 45.7 MPH
Peak average speed change: 11.5%
1. Fort Lee, NJ at SR 4 Junction (George Washington Bridge)
Average speed: 36.5 MPH
Peak average speed: 31.3 MPH
Non-peak average speed: 38.5 MPH
Peak average speed change: 39.4%
While we do not have access to the terabytes upon terabytes of data that ATRI has on over a million trucks throughout the course of a year, we still have our critiques of the results, both in methodology and presentation.
First and less important, it would be interesting to learn immediately the highest and lowest speeds for the day and at what time they occur at a moment’s glance, rather than drilling down into each bottleneck’s specific results. For example, the number 6 entry (Chicago) has its lowest speed at 3 PM-4 PM at about 17.5 MPH and has its highest speed at 3 AM-4 AM at around 49 MPH. Having this data on the list would have been interesting, digestible tidbits.
The biggest problem with the data, however, is that the methodology assumes a free flow of 55 MPH at all locations, and bases the congestion on how far the average is for that number. ATRI admits that this assumption is limited as the speed limits are not listed for all locations.
One listed location that does have a posted speed limit is the George Washington Bridge, the number one slot, at a 45 MPH limit. This gives it a 10 MPH advantage over many other entries almost immediately, and any locations with a speed limit above 55 MPH are less likely to be congested when their peak times average out to 54 MPH.
The best way to alleviate this discrepancy would be to compare average speeds as a percentage of the specific place’s speed limit, such as making the average speed at the SR 4 Junction 81.1%, rather than using true numbers.
The data is still very informative, especially when learning how COVID-19 stay-at-home orders increased the average speed of trucks at numerous locations, and for some even decreased it.
In any case, it may make more sense to approach Manhattan from the south by way of Brooklyn.
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