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Philly's driving bottlenecks aren't going anywhere

I took some time off before Thanksgiving, so I'm still playing catchup with a few things. One is an American Highway Users and AAA report that used real time GPS data to look at the 50 worst bottlenecks in the country. Two of them were in our area. Can you guess which road? Both, not surprisingly, involve the Schuylkill Expressway, where dreams of getting to work on time go to die.

The 36th worst bottleneck in the country was I-76 at US Route 1, between Roosevelt Boulevard and City Avenue. The report found backups were typically almost a mile long at this interchange. It costs drivers 700,000 hours in delays annually, worth about $16 million. It also wastes 263,120 gallons of gas.

The other Philly-area bottleneck, number 47 on the list, is I-676 between I-76 and N. 24th Street. Backups there extend about a third of a mile. The delays cost drivers 300,000 hourss annually, time valued at $6 million, and waste 112,580 gallons of fuel.

"What this report also highlighted is some of these are not just rush hour bottlenecks," said Jim Lardear, a spokesman for AAA. "They're heavy traffic throughout the day."

The report brought up the obvious question about what could be done to make these stretches better. For anyone who knows the geography of these areas (heavily developed and, on the Schuylkill, pretty hilly) it's pretty obvious expansion and major construction are just not in the cards. The best PennDOT can do, said spokesman Eugene Blaum, is let drivers know how bad the delays are going to be.

"Congestion warnings and travel times are provided to motorists traveling on I-76 and I-676 via electronic message signs posted on both expressways to inform drivers and allow them to divert to other highways to avoid bottlenecks," he wrote in an email Monday.

The transportation department also added more tow trucks to the area in 2000 to help clear accidents more quickly, he wrote.

PennDOT is also performing a feasibility study on the Schuylkill Expressway to see how technology might help keep traffic flowing better.

Interestingly, Lardear noted that the majority of accidents in these bottleneck areas aren't usually fatal. People stuck in traffic aren't going fast enough to injure each other too badly.