Dr Gridlock's Toll Blinders

May 24, 2000

Dr Gridlock’s Toll Blinders

Originally published in issue 49 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in May 2000.


Subjects:congestion toll versus free

Agencies:Washington Post

Locations:NJ PA CT NY

Sources:Dr Gridlock

Bob Betker, a reader wrote WASHINGTON POST traffic guru Dr Gridlock that he’d recently been on a trip to Boston and noticed “EZ Pass” lanes in several states, and asked whether it was in use locally and how to get an E-ZPass transponder. Dr G responded that the toll systems in Maryland and Virginia are not compatible with “EZ Pass” (as spelt by Dr G), omitting to mention that this is only because business arrangements have not yet been made, and that MD, at least, plans interoperability before the end of the year.

Dr G, an inveterate toll-hater then took the opportunity to urge readers to avoid the tolls by abandoning the coastal plains routes for the westward loop through the Appalachians. He suggested I-270 to Frederick MD, US-15 to Harrisburg PA, then to Boston, I-81 to Scranton and I-84, or to NYC I-78. The scenery is better and the congestion less and he plugged a couple of “family restaurants” that he said serve “home cooking” as opposed to turnpike food’s “bus station ambiance.” The downside he admitted is that these routes are “an hour or so longer.” (WASH POST 5/29/00 pB5)

Or so! Three hours longer we’d say. US-15 is 4-lanes divided but has lots of traffic signals and for extended rush hour periods I-78 and I-84 are more heavily congested than the toll routes.

And of course Dr G’s routes don’t avoid all the tolls. I-78 is tolled at the Delaware River and so is I-84 at the Hudson. On our drive to Halifax NS last IBTTA there was horrendous traffic at the final barrier NJ Tpk plaza IC 18W at 10pm on a Saturday night, then on the George Washington bridge, but it turned out the worst choke point was the Cross Bronx Exwy, causing backups westwards onto the toll facilities.

Returning we went the longer inland route along I-84 hoping to avoid the NYC traffic. But on a weekday pm travel was slow for long periods of the drive on I-84 for nearly 100mi between Waterbury CT and Beacon NY. That took over 3 hours. Still just 2x2-lanes most of that distance, I-84 has become an overcrowded main street for a string of towns in CT and NY that generate a lot of local traffic. One day perhaps US-6 from IC-16 on the NYS Thruway through Peekskill and Jefferson Valley to the I-84/I-684 IC will be upgraded. And lanes added to I-84. Until then I-95 and the direct toll routes on the coast are probably less hassle for mid-Atlantic states travel to Yankeeland.

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