Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Traffic Jam from Hell

Philip Shucet, former commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation, once confided that the biggest mistake he'd made as commissioner was cutting funds for "incident management" during the budget crisis of the early Warner administration. The funds have since been restored, but the critical importance of rapid incident response was on display Friday in an accident involving three trucks and a chemical spill on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg.

Traffic backed up 22 miles to Prince William County. One woman reported taking 10 hours to drive from Washington, D.C., to Midlothian, south of Richmond. That's gridlock.

Fairly or unfairly, motorists quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch complained that state and local officials weren't as helpful as they could have been in getting the traffic moving again. Authorities, they said, could have done a better job of informing motorists of the nature of the problem, steering them onto alternate routes, and moving traffic along those routes more efficiently by changing traffic light sequences.

Incident management sits near the bottom of the VDOT funding totem priorities, garnering a few million dollars each year compared to a billion or more for maintenance and new construction. As frustrating as daily traffic congestion can be, it pales in comparison to monster traffic jams like Fridays' I-95 incident. Perhaps VDOT -- or, more properly, the lawmakers who fund VDOT programs -- will take a more generous view of incident management programs in the future.


At 11:41 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Part of the problem is that if a truck spills ten gallons of diesel fuel, it becomes a hazmat issue.

Another part of the problem is sorting out the blame for the ultimate lawsuits.

But the poor scmuckes stuck in a 20 mile backup have no claim because no harm was done to them.

How many times have you seen 20 officers at the scene and not one directing traffic?


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