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Detonation: Traffic Woes


John Lehenbauer
Mar 6, 2017
Photographers: John Lehenbauer
Let’s start out by saying “traffic sucks!” It doesn’t matter where you live; no one likes being stuck in traffic. There is nothing worse than sitting in your truck for two hours, only to cover a few miles. Forward progression can become so slow and anxiety so high that you are ready to jump out of your vehicle and scream—especially when you have to be somewhere at a certain time. To make matters worse, you find out there is no reason for the traffic. I never wish ill will to anyone, but if there is a “carbeque” or an accident, I’d understand the delay.
For me, growing up in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin has made traffic a normal part of everyday life. Even when I started driving, trips on certain freeways had to be planned (departure times, travel routes, and so on) well in advance to avoid heavy traffic. The roads were practically empty in the middle of the night.
The situation has gotten progressively worse over the years. Now, there is so much traffic at certain times of the day, even side streets are tasked with handling the overflow of vehicles from the interstate. There does not seem to be any time of day or night that is completely void of traffic. Trying to guess whether there will be a lot of travelers on the road is a roll of the dice, and I always seem to get snake eyes.
Photo 2/2   |   Just another typical morning while driving on Interstate 5 through Los Angeles. As the sun rises, so does the car count.
I would love to blame all the traffic on accidents, other drivers, and there simply being too many cars, but that is not always the case. Highway construction is also a huge part of the problem. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and local governments say they are improving the roadways, but when these improvements cause years of increased traffic and delays from lane closures and reroutes, how is this helping? The timeline seems so long on some of these projects that the improvements are almost a moot point when they’re finally finished. Many times, traffic catches up to and surpasses road improvements that are supposed to help alleviate congestion. Planners (or the people calling the shots) don’t seem to have enough forethought to build or rebuild the highways to handle more capacity. It also seems like the areas that do get improved aren’t always the sections that really need the attention. Just widening a highway doesn’t always fix the exchanges and merge zones that are the actual sources of heavy traffic and bottlenecks.
Here in California, a lot of the highway construction and repairs are funded by a road tax placed on our fuel (per gallon). So, with all the tax we pay (including the thousands and thousands of gallons of fuel that I alone have purchased) to maintain our roadways, you would think they would be a bit better, that they would not have countless potholes and rough surfaces or joints at bridges and overpasses that are so uneven they can cause a vehicle’s suspension to bottom out. The poorly maintained surfaces can make it hard to keep a vehicle under control.
I believe some of the worst sections of road are those that are heavily used by tractor-trailers. Understand, I’m not blaming the drivers for doing their job; I think the road beds should be better laid to support the weight traversing across them. If the highways are tougher, smoother, and easier to maneuver, traffic would flow better and there may even be a reduction in accidents.
There is a strong car culture in Southern California for a number of reasons, with the main one being that “by car or truck” is the only way for many of us to get from point A to B. The transit system is very limited, especially for those living in outlying communities. So, driving on congested roads is still the number-one way to get around.
What it really comes down to is an infrastructure that cannot handle the number of people that commute through this region of California every day, and a state (and county) that doesn’t keep up with progress. Most of the motorways were built when the numbers of vehicles were less than half of what they are now. I would just like to see some real progress in reducing the congested life many of us live. Like the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”


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