Trapped: There Are No Simple Solutions to Houston's Traffic Crisis

The crazy, complicated conundrum of Houston traffic.

1. I-45 southbound from Allen Parkway

There is no better place to look fear and death in the eye on Houston freeways than this roller-coaster entrance onto I-45 just north of the Pierce Elevated. It is common to see a person sitting at the end of the twisting and turning ramp, dead stopped and praying to God for mercy after having chosen to take this route. It is equally as common to see a lunatic with a death wish rocket onto the freeway as if he'd been fired out of a pistol. How this ramp continues to exist is a mystery to me and a constant terror to anyone who must use it or drive near it.
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Twists and Turns

The Patton entrance to I-45 South can be death-defying, which is why it's No. 6 on our list.
Google Earth
The Patton entrance to I-45 South can be death-defying, which is why it's No. 6 on our list.
Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Houston's three worst freeway interchanges.

At times it feels as if our freeway system is just a massive tangle of concrete with little rhyme or reason. But little compares to where these arteries meet. I often wonder if the architect of these connections was inspired by an M.C. Escher painting or the design of roller coasters (ever exited I-10 to the Beltway and felt as if you were 100 stories in the air?), or maybe he was just insane. Whatever the case, we're left with some of the most ridiculous and confusing interchanges in some of the city's most heavily trafficked areas.

3. U.S. 290, the North Loop and I-10

The only thing that saved this from being No. 1 is the fact that it's under construction and there's the hope that something will be done to repair this disaster that currently resembles a war zone. Not only does this convergence occur in one of the fastest-growing parts of town, but it extends almost a half mile as 290 and 610 meet I-10 to the south.

From every direction, this jumble is complicated to navigate, but the worst part is the stretch in between all three where a huge number of traffic lanes split off in multiple directions. Even with stenciled freeway names on the lanes, it's nearly impossible to discern exactly where to go. Worse yet, when you're trying to merge from, say, I-10 heading west onto 290 going north, you have to cross six lanes of traffic congested by people aiming for multiple exits ahead. Enter at your own peril.

2. U.S. 59 at the West Loop

I once read that the exit from 610 going west to the Southwest Freeway was on the list for most traffic accidents per year in Texas. That would not surprise me. I hate this exchange so much that I wrote an angry letter last year to people who drive it. At virtually no time of the day is this area not packed with cars, and yet drivers moving from one freeway to another are forced into single lanes of traffic.

Coming from 59 south to 610 is equally bad, made even worse by an entrance ramp from Chimney Rock — on my list of the worst freeway entrance ramps. From the other direction, the single-lane exit to 610 going north is always packed, causing some drivers to panic and exit Newcastle, which is an even more painful choice than sitting and waiting on the freeway. There's no hope in this area, only misery. Avoid it at all costs.

1. Tx 288, U.S. 59 and I-45

And still, nothing compares to the nightmare where Tx 288, U.S. 59 and I-45 intersect. In addition to elevated portions of 45 and 59, massive traffic in and around the Medical Center, and the dangerous exit to Spur 527 off 59 just before you reach this confluence, there's a bizarre, almost subterranean feel to stretches of 59 between 288 and 45 that are as claustrophobic as they are jammed with people.

With so many exits pushing and pulling drivers all over the highway along this lower level, it's a miracle anyone ever gets to his or her intended destination. I wouldn't be surprised if someone trying to get to the University of Houston ends up near the Ship Channel weeping and hoping his cell phone doesn't die before help arrives. It doesn't help that drivers here often act as if their only job is to avoid any possible slowdown, whipping in and out of lanes to find the fastest route to Galveston.

If you cannot avoid this area, my best advice is to read many maps carefully. Become a cartographer if you must, but don't drive here unless you know what you're doing. and even then, a prayer couldn't hurt.
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Pothole City

The 10 worst major roads in Houston (right now).

10. TC Jester between 34th Street and Pinemont Drive

I have the misfortune of driving this nearly every day, and have driven it for many years. In high school, I had friends who drove big cars with cream-puff suspensions who enjoyed going fast northbound in the right-hand lane on TC Jester because the giant dips created by roads intersecting it would nearly send them airborne. Those conditions still exist, but now they're worse. And for some crazy reason, parking is allowed in the right-hand lane of the southbound side near the dog park. It becomes a choice between hitting a parked car and hitting a massive pothole. It's not always a clear-cut decision.

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