Monday, June 11, 2012

Why I'm Not Taking the Triangle Parkway

The Triangle Parkway has been open for six months, and has been tolled for five of those months. During that time, Amber and I have spent a total of $1.10 in tolls between the two of us. So, no, we're not taking the road all that often. I'm not sure many others are, either, because everything I drive over it and look, there is hardly anybody on it.

I don't know if people are staying off the road because they're opposed toll roads in general, or because the Parkway doesn't really help them all that much, but for us, it's the latter. Even though we live nearby, the orientation of the Parkway with respect to our house means that the Parkway doesn't really help us directly.

However...there is something NCDOT could do that would make me slightly more likely to spend the occasional $0.50 and use the Parkway. To explain, let's break out the Google Maps:


View Parkwood to I-40 in a larger map

The green pushpin is the approximate location of our house. The red pushpin is the I-40/I-540 interchange. Getting from the green pushpin to the red pushpin is something we have to do a lot.

The blue route is generally the fastest way to get there, and best of all, it's free! (Or, I should say, "taxpayer funded". None of this is truly "free".) But there are times in which the blue route may not be the best route, such as during rush hour, when NC-55 northbound to I-40 is slow, the NC-55/NC-54 traffic light is slow, and I-40 itself may or may not be backed up.

Alternatives include the green route and the red route. The green route isn't the answer, though, because not only is the green route slower to start with, rush hour affects the green route even more than it does the blue route because of all the traffic lights on NC-55. So, that's out.

Now, about that red route. This includes some of the Triangle Parkway, and currently costs $0.50 per one-way trip if you have a transponder ($0.77 if you don't). During rush hour the other day, I thought I'd give the red route a chance. Since it's tolled, it had better be quite a bit faster - or at the very least, less stressful - than the blue route for it to be worth it, right?

Well, here are my conclusions: - At normal traffic volume, the blue route is still the way to go, toll or no toll. - At rush hour, unless there is a major accident along the blue route, the red route offers no significant time savings over the blue route. At best, red route time = blue route time. At worst, the red route adds a minute. - The reason the red route wasn't faster during my rush hour test was because I spent two minutes sitting at the Davis Drive traffic light (the purple pushpin on the map) waiting to get onto the Parkway. (Hopson Road --> Parkway Southbound traffic must first cross Davis Drive via a traffic light.) And that got me thinking.

Obviously, NCDOT wants people to drive on your fancy new toll road (and yes, it really is fancy). So wouldn't it make sense to speed to access to that toll road as much as possible (without compromising traffic flow on other roads, of course)? Why make willing customers wait up to two minutes just to get on the darn thing? Shouldn't drivers willing to pay a little extra be given higher priority? I mean, Davis Drive isn't that busy a road.

So here is my memo to NCDOT: speed up the traffic light timing at Davis Drive, and I might take the toll road more often. I'm not saying I'll take it every time we head east; I'm just saying that for the Parkway to be a viable rush hour alternative, we need to be able to get on the Parkway a little more quickly. Because as it stands, unless I-40 is completely slammed, the Parkway is pretty much a non-option.

Well, regardless, NCDOT is likely get plenty of toll revenue from all of us once the next section of NC-540 opens up, because that will address a much bigger need. (NC-55 in downtown Apex is truly awful, even on weekends.) But until then - and until our transponders work in other states (hopefully soon?) - our account balance is generally going to stay right where it is.

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