Sitting in Traffic (It’s all relative)

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By Amy Miller

There’s a big sign flashing as you exit my Maine village to the north: EXPECT MAJOR DELAYS. Route 236 between South Berwick and Berwick is being repaved, I guess.

I can drive the four miles from South Berwick to Berwick without passing more than a handful of cars. Even on Friday evenings in summer when traffic coming into town is sometimes backed up a mile – a full 10 minutes — the road north from town is virtually empty. All of those cars take a right, east to the Maine coast.

So the idea of MAJOR DELAYS is one I cannot really imagine. I think of the LIE – the Long Island Expressway – which in some parts hosts on average about 200,000 vehicles a day (that’s 8,000 a minutes or 17 a second on each of eight lanes, if I’m doing my math right). Here, MAJOR DELAYS might mean it takes two hours to go 10 miles at rush hour instead of the normal 60 minutes. I think of The 5 in Los Angeles, where no one goes between 3 and 6 pm because too many cars are on the road already. I mean no one with any choice in the matter.

For a moment I think about the Tobin Bridge, where recent repairs have meant it could take an hour to get out of town. Or, stretching the imagination, I conjure up the image of the Portsmouth traffic circle in New Hampshire, where sprawl over the last two decades has changed a sleepy rotary into a circle of constant traffic that sometimes backs up nearly to the next exit north.

But major delays in South Berwick? State records show anywhere from 200 to 16,000 AADT on our various roads. AADT, by the way, is the annual average daily traffic and is used for all sorts of things, including transportation funding and planning. Leaving town via the MAJOR DELAY route there might be 6,000 AADT, best I could figure it. This means about 400 vehicles an hour or about 6 or 7 a minute, figuring on traffic only 15 hours a day. While the LIE may buzz at 3 am, our town is pretty much asleep by 10 pm on a weeknight and 11 pm on weekends.

When the DownEaster train comes through and they have to lower the gate I find myself waiting a minute or two, usually behind a dozen cars or less.

So I am curious. What will these MAJOR DELAYS look like?

Here’s EPA help assessing how green are your wheels, even if they are stuck in heavy traffic

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, dusky conure, dog and a great community.


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