The weather outside is frightful, and the traffic backups it causes are anything but delightful. So you know what I say. “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” (Provided of course I’m in the comfort of my home with no particular place to go, because otherwise, the weather makes driving around here an utter nightmare.) The weather up here in the Capital Region has most certainly taken a turn for the worse. I feel like I just got my pool covered, and the next thing I know, my brakes are locking up on icy roads throughout the area. How did this happen? Where’s all of that global warming I was promised? Don’t tell me Trump already fixed that. Wow, amazing, you can really effect a lot of change tweeting from your toilet at 3AM.
While the weather and the traffic may seem like two completely different topics, they are for anybody who drives to work, perpetually linked. All Capital Region commuters are acutely aware of this phenomenon. The traffic here has become a nightmare, as it has in many large and small metro areas across the country. We expect traffic issues in New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, (Well really all over California.) Washington, D.C., Boston, and really anywhere there is a significant metro population. However, one of the charms of the Albany area was that the traffic was always manageable to say the least. Sadly, that is no longer the case. Has our population really exploded to the point where our local roads can’t sustain the traffic in this area? Well, on the surface, not really. Albany’s population for example was 98,251 in 2017, while it was 99,548 in 1993. It’s actually gone down! What about the population in our various suburbs? Clifton Park, the area that many like to claim is the source of much of the traffic tsuris in this part of the world, saw its population grow from 30,000 in 1990 to approximately 36,705 in 2010 according to the most recent census. That’s growth to be sure, but is that the only reason for the traffic mash we are suffering through?
In some ways, we are victims of our own success. For example, the economy has witnessed 94 straight months of job growth, that means more people working, more individuals on the road, including truck drivers delivering their goods and services, and of course more cars to get these good-hearted working people to their various destinations. The Capital Region has not missed out on this success. The fact that we’ve seen the arrival of GlobalFoundries in Malta, the revitalization of Schenectady including the new Rivers Casino, and of course our old reliables such as the race track in Saratoga, Lake George, state offices, and our burgeoning tech and education successes have allowed for steady economic improvement, and have put more people on the move than ever before. However, our roads may not be up to the challenge.
There are certain areas in and around the Capital Region that have become as congested as Elvis’ colon shortly before he passed away. (This may have explained why he felt “Lonesome Tonight,” all of that time spent fruitlessly in the bathroom.) Let’s take a look at some of the worst.
- Route 7 West, exit to the Northway (I-87) going north 3p-6:30p – This one’s been bad for a while. The problem is that it used to be bad staring at around 4:15pm, but now as early as 3pm the backup begins. How did this occur? I blame our brave but needy state workers. It seems that the state has allowed many state employees to enjoy flexible scheduling which means that instead of a nice concise rush hour pattern that existed from 4:30pm through 6:00pm, we now get to enjoy a rush-hour that lasts almost three hours. That’s a three-hour tour I want no part of.
- Route 7 East exit to I-787 south towards Albany – 7:00am-8:15am – This has always been a bit of a cluster you know what, but lately it seems to back up a little earlier every morning. You can hustle by staying in the left lane until the last second, but then you get a lot of people who have been sitting patiently in the right lane all giving you the collective “stink-eye.” Plus the people who are in the left lane for legitimate reasons don’t like to slow down while you are easing off the gas to merge in meaning you could be both contributing to, and being the victim of a major accident.
- The “Dreaded” Northway (I-87) south exits 10-8 – 6:55am-8:30am – If you live north of the “Twin Bridges,” then you know that this is the gauntlet that one must navigate their way through every day. It starts to build just south of exit 10 and continues literally until you get to the bridges. The merging traffic coming from exits 10-8 slows this down to a crawl, and that’s on good days. If the weather is bad, and by bad I mean any kind of precipitation, or too much glare from the sun, then it moves much slower. However, the biggest issue lately would appear to be the endless stream of automobile accidents. There seems to be an accident of some significance at least three times a week. At that point, if you’re like me and you’re in your 50s, and you’re stuck in traffic, and you’ve been drinking coffee all morning, you are most likely going to have to make a pitstop.
- Route 146 east towards Clifton Park from Schenectady – 4:00pm-6:00pm – It’s almost as if General Electric has opened up a vein and just bleeds automobiles straight from its parking lot right across the Mohawk River bridge crossing, through to Clifton Park. Route 146 is a narrow and winding road, and it doesn’t take too many cars to bring it to a crawl. A new traffic circle and bridge have helped to some extent, but this traffic mess is not one of those good things that GE has brought to life.
Of course compared to many places in the country we still have very little to complain about. Try taking a jaunt on the Cross Bronx Expressway down in New York City, the roadway that is voted worst highway in America year-after-year, or try cruising on the Belt Parkway through Brooklyn on your way to the Verrazano Bridge, where the toll for crossing by now is about $20 bucks a pop, and you’ll learn to appreciate the little peccadillos that make up the Capital Region driving experience.
On the other hand, our weather does mean that we are dealing with more traffic situations than many medium size cities. This past week for example, we were all witness to something that you might not see in another millennium, a weather issue that was so bad, it literally brought traffic in the entire region to a screeching halt. On Wednesday, a seemingly innocent and wonderful sprinkling of snow seemed to have descended upon my yard and back deck as I let my dog out around 5:30am. I didn’t give it much thought and went about my business as I prepared to leave my house at the usual time, 6:52am. (Why 6:52am? It just seems like the right time to get me to work at the time I most desire which is around 7:25am. My workday at school begins officially at 7:40am, but I like to get there a few minutes early to take care of a few housekeeping chores. I used to be able to leave at 7:00am and arrive at my desired ETA, but the aforementioned increase in traffic along the Northway has made that practice moot.) Little did I realize what an adventure I was about to incur.
I made my way out of my development, and I noticed that I was stuck all the way behind not one, but two slower than slow drivers. I continued to feel trapped as I slowly and with descending patience followed behind my two “travel partners” as we took the long and winding road known as Van Patten Drive all the way up to Ushers Road which would lead me to the disagreeable Northway. I already had it planned out in my head that I would lose both of these fools on the highway, even if it meant I had to do it at around 40 mph max. However a strange occurrence occurred. Ushers Road was so backed up that we could barely make the right hand turn at the corner. I could see that not only was the Northway backed up in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way up to exit 10, but that U.S. Route 9 wasn’t fairing any better. That’s when I began to start trying my shortcuts. I would utilize not only the ones I knew of, but whatever was available to me on my car’s GPS as well as on my iPhone. By 8:30am, I was still in Clifton Park, sort of stuck in the mélange that lies between exit 8a and exit 8.
Because traffic, weather, and an absurd amount of accidents have become the norm on my morning commute, the person who answers the phone at my school already knows it’s me when I call in at around 7:10am letting my employer know that I’m going to be late. However, this time I was greeted by that familiar voice telling me that at that particular time, there was really no way to get into school since both bridges into Rensselaer were closed due to ice, and that the local roads leading into school were completely glutted with traffic, and in fact, the busses carrying the kiddies couldn’t even get in. I called my friend who lives much closer to Rensselaer than I several times to try and figure out what was going on. Both times he answered the phone by taunting me that everybody was there and they couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t. He can be a “d!c& sometimes. At any rate, I wouldn’t arrive until almost 9:30am, missing two of my classes, which really didn’t matter since most of the students weren’t even there.
With I-90 literally frozen over, every roadway in the Capital Region was backed up and there was simply nowhere to go. My brakes locked up at one point as I was trolling my way through Clifton Park trying to find a way to get to work. Eventually I made my way to Vischer Ferry Road and was looking to make a turn when the police made us turn around. There was a little bit of a hill, and they said if you didn’t have four-wheel drive, you’d never make it. I was beginning to come to the realization that I might not ever get to work this day. When I did arrive, I spoke to some of my students who drive, and some of them told me that it was so icy, they simply turned around and went back home until it melted. Most snowstorms are navigable, but ice is a different kettle of frozen fish.
What are we going to do this winter Capital Region denizens? It’s only mid-November and the weather and the traffic are already unbearable. I really don’t think I can get up any earlier. I’m giving myself 50 minutes to drive what should take about 28 minutes door-to-door in normal weather and traffic. Usually, for reasons I really don’t understand, the traffic tends to bet better in the morning on the ride to work as the school year drags on, but at the same time, it gets worse on the ride home. That makes little to no sense to me, but compared to the traffic that I grew up with down on Long Island, I really shouldn’t be complaining. When it gets as bad as it did last week, I’m reminded of some of the insane “shortcuts” that my father used to take to avoid traffic. Many times we were either going way out of our way, or even on occasion, the wrong way. When we would dare to question my father’s decision making when it came to the direction we were heading, as well as his approach to dealing with traffic jams, he would kind of shrug his shoulders and say, “Hey, at least we’re moving.”