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The Three Worst Houston Freeway Interchanges

Welcome to one of Houston's three circles of traffic hell.
Welcome to one of Houston's three circles of traffic hell.
Photo by TexasDarkHorse via Flickr

UPDATE September 23, 2014: Good news: the interchange that took the top spot in this list is getting a makeover. The interchange where Highway 59 and Interstate 45 South merge going in to downtown is getting a two-year, multimillion-dollar makeover.

Last week when I wrote about the most treacherous on ramps to freeways, many of you suggested connections between freeways as possible additions. Since I was sticking with entrances from side streets, I skipped out on freeway interchanges, but there are three in particular that are such a mess, they deserve some attention.

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, the design of roller coasters (ever exited Interstate 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 are left with some of the most ridiculous and confusing interchanges in some of the city's most heavily trafficked areas.

There are certainly plenty of good examples of this spread out all over the city. But these three are the absolutely worst, a mixture of poor design and heavy use.

3. Highway 290, the North Loop and Interstate 10

The only thing that saved this from being No. 1 is the fact that it is under construction and the hopes 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 is extended 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 is nearly impossible to discern exactly where to go. Worst yet, when 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 the exit from 610 going west to the Southwest Freeway was on the list of the most traffic accidents per year in the state. That would not surprise me. I hate this exchange so much that I wrote an angry letter to people who drive it last year. 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 and compounded by an entrance ramp from Chimney Rock -- on my top 10 list last week. From the other direction, the single-lane exit to 610 going north is always packed causing some drives to panic and exit Newcastle, which is an even more painful choice than sitting and waiting on the freeway. There is no hope in this area, only misery. Avoid it at all costs.   1. Highway 288, U.S. 59 and Interstate 45

And still, nothing compares to the nightmare where Texas Highway 288, U.S. 59 and Interstate 45 intersect. In addition to elevated portions of 45 and 59, massive traffic in and around the Medical Center, the dangerous exit to Spur 527 off 59 just before you reach this confluence, you have 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 of highway, it's a miracle anyone ever gets to their intended destination. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if someone trying to get to the University of Houston ends up near the Ship Channel weeping and hoping their cell phone doesn't die before help arrives. It doesn't help that drivers here often act like their only job is to avoid any possible slow down, whipping in and out of lanes to find the fastest route to Galveston.

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


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