From the Roadshow archives: When Sunol Grade replaced Bay Bridge as worst traffic jam in Bay Area

Bay Bridge had been the worst commute on state roads in the nine Bay Area counties for nearly two decades

It’s official now. Thousands of Interstate 680 drivers who get up as early as 3:30 a.m. to avoid traffic on the Sunol Grade drive the region’s worst daily commute.

The Bay Bridge has been named the worst commute on state roads in the nine Bay Area counties for the first time since Caltrans began tracking congestion levels in 1981.

“Oh, wonderful,” said David Rodriquez, who commutes 95 miles on I-680 from Delhi in Merced County to the East Bay and must leave home before dawn to arrive at work in less than two hours. “I’m not too happy about this.”

Sunol Grade commuters, however, are not alone in their anguish. Five other commutes into Silicon Valley are among the worst — the most in the region’s California Department of Transportation rankings. The San Mateo Bridge was ranked third in terms of congestion, with Interstate 880 through Fremont, the Dumbarton Bridge, Highway 101 through San Jose, and Highway 237 rounding out Silicon Valley’s list of worst commutes.

“We thought in our last report that the next big battleground would be in San Mateo County, places like Redwood City, San Mateo, and Redwood Shores,” Albert Yee, Caltrans chief of highway operations, explained. “That’s where Silicon Valley is creeping north, as evidenced by the massive Oracle development in Ralston and Redwood Shores.”

Caltrans ranks routes based on their daily hours of delay. State engineers compile that figure by counting the number of vehicles on the road that drive slower than 35 mph for more than 15 minutes at a time. In 1998, motorists on I-680 spent more than 7,200 hours per day stuck in traffic, compared to 5,840 hours spent idling in traffic on the I-80 approach to the Bay Bridge.

Two years ago, state officials predicted that the Sunol Grade would surpass the Interstate 80 commute to the Bay Bridge as the worst in the region. I-680 was ranked 28th on the list of worst commutes in 1994, but it jumped to second in 1995 and remained there until this year. Due to budget constraints, no report was completed in 1997.

New carpool lanes on I-80 “that have been a real success, beyond anyone’s imagination,” Yee said, noting that Bay Bridge motorists spent 10,340 hours per day idling in traffic in 1995 but only 5,840 last year.

There have been no improvements to I-680 in recent years, though a southbound carpool lane from Highway 84 to Highway 237 is planned for the next few years. Nonetheless, Caltrans’ Yee believes traffic on 680 has peaked.

“Congestion begins at 5 a.m. and lasts until close to 10 a.m.,” he said. “People aren’t willing to tolerate much more than that.”

The Dumbarton Bridge, which rose from 17th to sixth most congested route, saw the greatest improvement in rankings. Regular span users will not be surprised by this.

“Traffic has been very busy in the last few weeks and months,” said Scott Underwood, who commutes 15 miles from his home in Newark to downtown Palo Alto. “I’m now leaving the house at 5:30 a.m. and returning home after 7 p.m. Only then is traffic acceptable.”

Among the other findings in the report, which was released on Tuesday:

  • Last year, Bay Area commuters spent nearly 112,000 hours per day stuck in traffic, an increase from 90,000 hours in 1996. Congestion is estimated to cost area drivers and businesses nearly $1.2 million per year, according to officials.
  • Congestion on nearly 300 miles of freeways was reported, an increase of about one-third from the 218 congested miles reported in 1990.
  • Congestion is increasing at a slower rate. While congestion levels increased by 31% between 1995 and 1996, increases have averaged 12% over the last two years.
  • Sonoma County had the highest increase in congestion, up 55 percent from two years ago.
  • San Mateo County’s congestion has now surpassed that of San Francisco and Marin County combined for the second time.

For the first time, Highway 101 in Santa Clara County made the top ten most congested roads list. Caltrans stated that 101 is divided into several sections for the study. “The 101 corridor from Redwood City to the southern part of San Jose,” according to Yee, “might be the most congested of them all.”

That’s all the bad news for today.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply