Freeways: How Big Is Too Big?

So there I was, driving eastbound on the LBJ Freeway at night, merging onto the North Central Expressway. A few thoughts were crossing my mind at the time, but probably the most prominent was “wow, this bridge is really tall and scary.

Sure, some of you may laugh at reading that, and frankly I’m kind of ashamed of it myself. But I’d like to believe I have a valid point–the High Five Interchange is as high as a 12-story building and has 37 permanent bridges. At this point you have to begin to wonder, how much is too much?…

I’m not just talking specifically about that interchange either. The High Five is representative of many other busy freeway interchanges in the Metroplex. And to be completely honest, these massive freeways and their interchanges are kind of frightening and unappealing to me, and I’m a DFW native. If I live in the area and feel this way, maybe some of the other people around the country turned off by these concrete behemoths, also?

Sure, these enormous, intricate freeways and interchanges are engineering marvels, but are they really practical and pleasant for those who have to drive on them? Well, that’s really a matter of personal opinion.

If you’re unsettled by the freeways we have now, the outlook appears to be pretty bleak–the LBJ Freeway is getting even bigger, and it’s already gargantuan as it is. And the DFW Connector is actually huge in person. Sure, these new projects alleviate traffic for a little while, but it’s all just a cycle that repeats itself. Soon enough, the highway will be over capacity again, and commuters will have to deal with multiple years of arduous construction. But as our population grows, is there really anything we can do about it?

Well, to answer this question, I think we have to look at the cause of the problem. In my opinion, it seems like we’ve been blessed with too much space in the DFW area. All of this space has caused a ridiculous amount of urban sprawl, which in turn has caused more commuters to drive across the Metroplex, and thus, more traffic.

With the Metroplex continually expanding (both population-wise and area-wise), there’s really only a couple of solutions for our continually expanding freeways, and they’re both pretty big undertakings.

Either we densify or find a mode of large-scale public transportation.

Just look at New York City. Their metropolitan statistical area has nearly three times as many people as DFW, yet they don’t have any massive, continually-expanding freeways like us. And the reasoning for this should be pretty obvious–considering they only have a fraction of the land area that the Metroplex does, their population is a lot denser than ours. Additionally, the New York City subway system is one of the most extensive and comprehensive in the world.

So, what will it be? Should we keep our current ideology of continuous physical expansion or should we implement a new system entirely? I’d like to hear what you think.

  • You have a great and valid point a 20 lane highway is terrifying, however you give too much credit to New York. If you look they have an amazing transportation system, but their roads are also clogged 24/7. Added there are plenty of places you take taxi’s still instead of getting on the subway. Plus the reliance on intercity transport leaves you confined to a few block as observed by people talking about how far away Coney Island is, there is no reason that for most people that should be a day trip and not something more like Denton to Dallas. If you want to alleviate traffic there needs to be a radical new concept in the way we get around, and I believe we will eventually see something like that. Also a thought we need to rethink how we ship freight if we want to decrease congestion as well as maybe making two freeways one that is for access to streets and others that are for going through the city. If we had a system that had on and off ramps similar to Hov style pacing or Tollway pacing and then the general access freeways we might see a decrease in congestion without an increase in lanes, but that’s just a thought.

    • I think you’re right about New York. However, I think the reason we don’t invest more of our time and our resources into alternate modes of transportation is because we have lots of room to expand. This is why our roads keep getting bigger and bigger while New York has to get more creative with its transportation because they don’t have any room to expand their roads. This is why we need to spend our tax dollars on research of mass transit rather than spending billions of dollars expanding the roads that we already have.

  • Pingback: The Most Practical and Beautiful Highway Interchanges » Road Crazed()