For many North Texans, drive time has shrunk by several minutes as many long-awaited road construction projects have come to an end, creating more space for everyone on the highways.
But for others, commute times have gotten significantly worse during the past four years.
The reasons are many.
Some motorists live in areas where the road capacity just can’t keep up with growth. Others live near work zones, where traffic crawls today but will be much better in the near future, once the orange cones and barrels are gone.
One way to compare motorists’ drive times is to peek at the data from a Kirkland, Wash.-based company called INRIX, which provides navigation software for mobile traffic apps such as those on board Ford, BMW and many other vehicles.. INRIX knows exactly how long drivers spend on roads, because their technology is along for the ride, although the data comes in anonymously (so the company doesn’t spy on individual motorists).
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram asked INRIX to provide travel time data on some commonly used commuting corridors in the Fort Worth area.
The results aren’t scientific, but provide a snapshot of how travel times have changed during the past four years. Also, travel times are just measured on highway corridors. (The time is takes to get from the freeway network to a driver’s final destination varies too much to make the measurements analytically meaningful.)
Alliance to downtown on I-35W
Let’s say your morning drive involves leaving the Alliance Airport area and traveling to downtown Fort Worth. A trip from Alliance to downtown between 8 and 9 a.m. now takes 19 minutes, compared to 27 minutes in 2016.
What’s happened during the past three to four years to make things so much better? For starters, the expansion of I-35W is now complete, freeing up motorists from years of construction as the freeway and its frontage roads were modernized.
And, of course, TEXPress toll lanes were added to the corridor, offering 75 mph speeds for those willing and able to pay.
Those tolls are important in analyzing the INRIX numbers, which don’t differentiate between which motorists are in the toll lanes and which are in the toll-free main lanes.
The drivers on the toll lanes are improving the average travel time for the overall group, but they’re also paying $1 to $2 per trip.
Mansfield to DFW Airport, Texas 360
Driving from one of south Tarrant County’s fastest-growing cities to the region’s largest employer base during the 11 a.m. hour now takes 30 minutes, compared to just 17 minutes in 2016.
A big part of that decline in highway efficiency has to do with the fact that the Texas 360/I-30 interchange in the midst of a multimillion-dollar makeover, creating a construction choke point in the corridor.
Also, it doesn’t help that the population of Mansfield has grown to 70,981 today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The city’s population was 56,415 in 2010 and just 28,031 in 2000.
Grapevine to Fort Worth, Texas 121
It now takes 24 minutes to travel from Grapevine, which had a huge workforce for a city of its size (about 54,000 residents) to downtown Fort Worth. That’s four minutes longer than it took in 2016.
It’s not entirely clear why this drive has gotten so much tougher. One reason might be the $1 billion in improvements to the Texas 121 corridor in Grapevine that were completed in 2014 have simply brought more cars into the area.
Another reason cited by many motorists is the growing bottleneck on Texas 121 near Cheek-Spargar Road in Euless-Bedford, where the highway shrinks from three lanes in each direction to just two. An additional lane in each direction is being carved out of the road shoulders, for use only during peak travel periods — and that construction work is expected to be complete next year.
Burleson to downtown Fort Worth via I-35W
Heading north on I-35W on a weekday morning can be an adventure. And it’s not getting better.
The 13-mile trip now takes 14 minutes, up from 12 minutes in 2016.
Arlington to Dallas, I-30
It now takes 16 minutes to get to Big D, compared to 17 minutes four years ago.
Traffic has improved as the Texas Department of Transportation has completed its road work on I-30 between the two cities.
That said, it’s actually tougher to get out of Arlington these days, because the Texas 360/I-30 bridge is under construction.
Overall, regional leaders believe they are doing a good job meeting the region’s mobility needs, even as Dallas-Fort Worth heads toward a projected population of nearly 11 million by 2035, up from roughly 7.5 million today.
Today, decision-makers know more about motorists’ habits than ever, in large part because technology such as that offered by INRIX provides much more personal detail about drivers’ habits.
“They are individual projects, but we see systems and connections,” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Morris commented during a Regional Transportation Council meeting in May, when RTC members decided which projects to fund for the upcoming 10 years.
“It’s not a coincidence that the North Tarrant Express comprehensive development agreement included (Texas) 183 improvements and improvements to 35W,” Morris said. “Why? Because in the real world, people travel across Airport Freeway and then they travel up and down on 35W.”