Friday, June 08, 2007

"Remind Me Never To Move To Newport News"

Skip to the random thought

Much like how it had been 15 years since I traversed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, it had also been 15 years since I had been to the Norfolk area, also known as the Hampton Roads area, so named after the body of water separating Newport News/Hampton from Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Portsmouth/Cheaspeake/Suffolk. I always wondered what significance "Hampton Roads" had. Now I know, it's the body of water that cuts through the area (and which the James River empties into).
This body of water makes things rather inconvenient if you're trying to get from one side to the other. There are only two ways to get across - take I-64 or I-664. Each road is a four-lane highway (two lanes each way) across Hampton Roads, and each uses a bridge-tunnel type device to get across. I'm not sure why they like tunnels so much around here, but it really makes things difficult, because it's much harder to widen a tunnel than it is to widen a bridge. Thus, the four lanes available to commuters each way across Hampton Roads is wholly insufficient to meet the traffic demand. I don't know what it's like during rushhour, but when I was there, the backup of cars waiting to get across Hampton Roads on I-64 eastbound was insane. Before I talk specifics, here's a map:

Before the 64/664 split, we saw electronic signs warning us of a 20-30 minute backup on I-64 prior to the bridge-tunnel. Why? No accident, no construction, none of that - just a bunch of cars trying to condense into two lanes. The alternate route was I-664 (which had no backup) all the way around the other side of the beltline, but we thought that would add more than 20-30 minutes to the trip, so we stuck with I-64. That proved to be a mistake. The estimate of 20-30 minutes was quite inaccurate. And, we ended up bailing out at the next-to-last exit before the bridge-tunnel, turning around, and going back to I-664. Sure, it was longer, but it was a much more enjoyable drive. This traffic jam sucked. The problem was, I-64 had three lanes of traffic for quite some time. But most people were in the left two lanes, and the third lane (which is exit-only at the next-to-last exit) had not many cars in it, and all the cars were moving quickly. Surely, some of those cars were getting off at that exit, but I bet most of them were merging in at the last second, and that's why the backup was so bad. The best way to do three-merging-to-two is for all cars to be using all lanes all up until the merge. Instead, the third-lane people get the free pass to the end, and then if they merge, they block the exit lane for people who wish to exit. And, some people got off at that exit, only to immediately re-enter. If you're going to do three-to-two in a heavy-traffic area, don't make the third lane exit-only, then most people won't take it, but the aggressive drivers will, and you'll have this problem. They need to extend the lane past the exit and then have it merge. Then, all three lanes would be used to the end equally, and the backups would be less intense. It wouldn't be a problem if they had more lanes crossing Hampton Roads. This was extremely poor design on their part. This is right up there with the I-26/I-240 split in Asheville for some of the worst interstate design I've seen. Sometimes, I wish I were a civil engineer.

I shudder to think what traffic is like during weekday rushhour. How many people use that bridge-tunnel each day on their way to and from the Navy base? Obviously, delays are an every day event, because they put a lot of effort into the electronic signage they have warning you of the delays. Seems like "beating around the bush" to me - the main problem is not enough lanes across the water. Why do people live here, anyway? All of the water makes it a rather inconvenient place to get around. I guess this metropolitan area exists because of its location along the ocean and its harbor, which make it a good location for a Navy base. (Most major cities lie along major waterways, after all.) But it's not a good place to commute. If I ever had to move to this area, I would be sure that my place of residence and my job were on the same side of the water. I wouldn't want to have to cross that thing every day. I suppose living in Suffolk and working in Cheaspeake wouldn't be so bad. But living in Hampton and working in Norfolk? Forget it. I've never driven through New York City, but I imagine their waterways create similar traffic problems. But at least they have a subway. I don't know whether or not the Hampton Roads area has sufficient public transportation to get people from one side of the water to the other. For their sake, I hope so.

Today's random thought:

- I guess I could have included this in one of those regular posts this week, but oh well. We stopped for dinner at Bojangles' in Emporia, VA on our way back home on Sunday. Thus far, all of the Bojangles' I have been to in the greater Raleigh/Durham area (including the one on US-29 in Blairs, VA) have been quite consistent - I get their 3-piece dinner for between $5.50 and $6 (including tax), and it comes with free iced tea. (I'm trying to learn to like iced tea - nothing against Bojangles', I just have never really liked iced tea in general.) Well, the 3-piece dinner in Emporia didn't come with iced tea. And, it was about $1 cheaper. Wahoo! I saved money, and didn't have to drink iced tea! Problem was, they charged 10 cents for a cup of water (the nerve!), and the service was extremely slow (almost Hardee's-like), so that offsets most of the good will acquired during my visit.


Petters said...

Chris, I've driven through the Norfolk-Suffolk-Hampton-Newport News military industrial complex 6 times, and only once did I not end up in a not-so-nice part of town. The road system sucks, and even if I didn't get lost, the traffic is murder as you say.

I can't possibly imagine taking any job in that area. Ever.

James said...

Tunnels=Big Ships from Navy Base

Jeff said...

There are also tunnels because Richmond maintains a deep-water port along the James River. I remember from driving to Florida that I-295 east of the port has a high bridge over the James River, while I-95, to the west of the port does not.