Will Adding a 3rd Lane to I-30 in Texarkana Actually Make Traffic Worse?
Recent studies have revealed something that nobody ever thought in a million years could be true, building more lanes, more roads and better access can actually make traffic worse? What?
I know, it's a head-scratcher, but there is evidence to back this theory up. Even right here in Texarkana. Let's start with the big boys though.
Worlds Widest Highway
I grew up and learned to drive in Houston, no matter where you lived the traffic was horrible most of the time. Out on the West side known as the Spring Branch area, for a couple of decades, they worked to ease the traffic flow and eventually built the widest freeway in the world, 10 traffic lanes on either side, high-occupancy and metro bus lanes in the middle. What happened? The traffic got worse. The West side of Houston which now includes the Katy area and more just kept expanding at a much faster rate than the other parts of Houston. Literally millions of people moved to that side of town. The "Energy Corridor" blossomed there and the "widest freeway in the world" was outdated before it was finished.
The same kind of thing has happened in every major city you can point to... LA, Dallas, Atlanta, it doesn't matter. It's something I recently read about in an article in Wired.com, a phenomenon called "induced demand", this is when you increase the supply of something that people want, in this case we're talking about roads, then they want it even more. So what you end up with are roads or highways reaching their maximum capacity just as they were before.
Local Example: Richmond Road
Richmond Road might be a great example here in Texarkana, we got rid of two intersections over the Richmond/I-30 bridge, changed the feeder traffic flow to be more like bigger cities, and replaced the bridges, all with the promise that it would ease traffic congestion on Richmond. Did it? To be perfectly honest I don't know the actual figures, but if you have ever been on Richmond Road on a Friday afternoon trying to get to the mall, you have four lights to go and traffic is backed up to the car wash, I can see where you might not think it did.
What If: I-49?
Here in Texarkana we all know what a pain it is to drive to Fort Smith or Fayetteville, it's either take the slow scenic drive up through Mena or go longer-but-faster I-30 to Little Rock then back out I-40 to parts Northwest. Imagine if Arkansas actually completed the I-49 project and we could simply skip straight up western Arkansas to get to those Razorback games or shave off a couple of hours getting to Branson. You know what would happen don't you? That highway would fill up so fast it would make your head spin, the only traffic relief would be in Little Rock! But according to the "induced demand" theory, it wouldn't last long for them either.
Better or Worse?
Will the 3rd lane currently being added to I-30 through the Texarkana, Texas side up to the Arkansas state line actually make I-30 traffic better or worse? Only time will tell, but as for me, let's just say... I'm skeptical.