Naperville’s traffic woes are shared by all of the metro area
By Susan Frick Carlman and Stefano Esposito Sun-Times media February 9, 2013 8:04PM
Cars pack the Route 59 train station parking lot on Friday, February 8, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:33AM
When you’re sitting out there idling in rush hour traffic, your blood inching closer to boiling point with each additional moment of delay, you can at least take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
And it’s not just the motorists ahead, behind and flanking your going-nowhere-fast vehicle. It’s a regional phenomenon. A newly released study found that the average Chicago area commuter wasted 51 hours and about $1,100 in gas while stuck in traffic during 2011.
The metropolitan region ranked third in the nation — behind New York and Los Angeles — in automobile travel delays and fuel wasted while in traffic that year, according to Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2012 Urban Mobility Report. The document is one of the key tools used by transportation professionals to solve traffic problems.
The researchers noted that every community has unique challenges that require different, multifaceted approaches to solving congestion.
In Naperville, a variety of strategies — some in place, others still on the drawing board — aim to help drivers make their way more swiftly.
Set to begin this spring, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s reconfiguration of on and off ramps between Route 59 and I-88 to an innovative “divergent diamond” flow is expected to considerably ease congestion on the city’s northwest side.
“You take that whole three-mile stretch of Route 59 from Ferry Road down to Aurora [Avenue] — that’s been a parking lot,” said Bill Novack, director of the city’s Transportation, Engineering and Development group.
The project is also taking aim at safety concerns.
“When there’s traffic, people will try to take chances,” Novack said. “You’ve been sitting in traffic, you’re late, and the light turns yellow, you think ‘I’m not going to wait another cycle.’”
IDOT opened bids for the project last month, Novack said, and contracts will go out soon for the Route 59 roadwork from Diehl Road to North Aurora Road and North Aurora to New York Street.
“We pushed very hard for this project back in 2001,” Novack said.
Many also have pushed hard for a better way to get from Naperville to Bolingbrook. Their pleas will be answered soon.
A joint venture of Will County, Naperville and Bolingbrook, the extension of 95th Street east over the DuPage River is scheduled to begin this spring and finish during 2014.
The 1.6-mile project will give drivers an alternative to Boughton Road. Supporters have estimated the new route will shave 5.6 million miles annually from local travel, and save almost 250,000 gallons of gas.
The Texas A&M report found that nationally, fuel wasted in congested traffic hit 2.9 billion gallons during 2011. The figure — enough to fill the New Orleans Superdome four times, the authors note — is about what it was in 2010, but a bit short of the 3.2 billion gallons wasted in pre-recession 2005.
Gridlock was a bigger concern back then at 75th Street and Washington Street in near-southeast Naperville. The $21 million expansion of that intersection in 2009 and 2010 made traffic move much more smoothly. Novack said in the past, he would plan his route to avoid the crossroads, but now it’s not a concern.
“I know when I’ve gone through there, it’s night and day,” he said.
Backups also were alleviated when new access was added to I-88 from the area near the intersection of Warrenville Road and Naperville Road, which was widened as part of the undertaking.
The new route to the interstate “took some of the pressure off of the Naperville Road and Warrenvile Road intersection,” Novack said, adding that the widening of the intersection also helped.
“You get through it these days. You didn’t before,” he said.
The nationwide cost of congestion in 2011 was $121 billion, up $1 billion from the year before and translating to $818 per commuter, according to the report.
“We all understand that trips take longer in rush hour, but for really important appointments, we have to allow increasingly more time to ensure an on-time arrival,” said Bill Eisele, an institute researcher and report co-author. “As bad as traffic jams are, it’s even more frustrating that you can’t depend on traffic jams being consistent from day to day. This unreliable travel is costly for commuters and truck drivers moving goods.”
The report also determined that the 10 most congested cities are Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, New York-Newark, Boston, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle.
Many commuters, fed up with traffic headaches, opt to use mass transit instead. The alternative is so popular, in fact, that for those who don’t have paid parking spaces reserved for them, it’s virtually impossible to arrange to leave a car at the Fifth Avenue Metra commuter station on a regular basis.
Caitlyn Marcon, a TED group project manager, said there are waiting lists for all three of the lots surrounding the station, just north of downtown Naperville. Drivers can expect it to take about seven years for a spot to become available in the Kroehler lot, and about a decade for a space in either the Parkview or Burlington lot, Marcon said.
She and her colleagues recently recommended a shift intended to alleviate parking woes at the Route 59 Metra station. The hub has two parking lots, north and south of the tracks, the former operated and maintained by Naperville. The south lot, which is larger, is managed by the city of Aurora.
Although there is no waiting list for the 1,814 commuter spaces in the north lot, many of its permit spaces sit empty while those hoping to pay daily can’t find a place to park, Marcon said.
The Transportation Advisory Board earlier this month gave a thumbs-up to plans for converting some of the permit spaces into daily-pay. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its next meeting.
Tom Miller, a Metra spokesman, said it’s unlikely either station’s commuter lots will be expanded any time soon. The Route 59 lots are “landlocked” and the Fifth Avenue station doesn’t have nearby open land available for more parking either.
The pair of stations used by Naperville commuters already are the busiest in all of Metra’s system.
“Between the two of them, there’s close to 10,000 people who board on a given weekday,” Miller said.