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Bottlenecks - a Driver's Worst Nightmare (and What's Being Done About Them)

There is a lot for CDL drivers to get annoyed with on the roads. Distracted drivers, inconsistent speed limits, poorly paved roads – all of these incidents can cause serious headaches. But the end result of these issues, as well as countless other incidents that can slow down freight movement, is the same: bottlenecks. Bottlenecks, or pockets of intense congestion and slowed traffic on highways, can lead to missed deadlines, delayed routes, as well as financial consequences.Each year, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) publishes a list of the top 100 most congested roadway segments in America. In the number one spot is the I-95 and SR 4 intersection in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Across all top 100 spots, there are a few key trends that stand out:

  • The average speed of these congested areas ranges between just 24.4 mph and 52.8 mph. For context, rural interstates have a speed limit of 70 mph and urban interstates have an average speed limit of 60 mph. 
  • For all but 19 of the top 100 congested areas, the peak average speed actually decreased from 2018 to 2019. The largest percent decrease was -18.67% at the 1-94 and US 52 interchange in the Minneapolis area.
  • The state of Texas was far and away the most represented state with 13 of the most congested intersections on the list, topping out at #5. Of these 13 locations, 9 of them are located in the Houston area. 

What the above numbers show us is that it’s not ‘unsafe drivers’ or poor CDL driving habits that are causing these bottlenecks. Even with drivers going slower and paying more attention to their surroundings, bottlenecks are taking place in high frequency. In theory, the ‘why’ actually makes sense. Most of the U.S. highway system was built decades ago for trucks that were much different than the modern eighteen wheelers on the road today. Plus, shipment volumes are continuing to rise year over year, putting a strain on the already overcrowded highway infrastructure. 

Let’s take a look at several consequences of these bottlenecks: 

Delays: The more time drivers spend stuck in bottlenecks, the less chance they have of getting to their end destination on time. This means unloading is delayed, which means they will get to their next destination later, setting off a chain of delays that is hard to catch up with. 

Financial strain: In 2016 alone, bottlenecks and congestion added $74.5 billion to industry operational costs. This is on top of the 1.2 billion hours lost in industry productivity and efficiency.

Unintentional costs: Carriers and CDL industry operators aren’t the only ones eating costs when it comes to bottlenecks. Congestion can cost shippers around $7 billion per year in detention fees and other unforeseen costs. Additionally, when supply is delayed, end consumers also feel the pressure of these costs and can end up paying more for their goods.  

So, what’s the best way to handle bottlenecks? 

Projects on both the state and federal level are in the works to increase highway volume and make it easier – and safer – for more trucks to get where they’re going on time. Carriers and drivers can also look to efficient route mapping that ends with drivers passing through the top congested areas at off-peak times. 

At the very least, drivers, carriers, and even shippers that are located around these congested areas should have some sort of contingency strategy in place. The best way to avoid bottlenecks is to plan ahead and be aware. And always remember to keep in mind what your drivers are going through each day – empathy and strategy will get you everywhere! 

Stay up to date on CDL trucking trends! Be sure to check out the DriverReach blog for other relevant articles and head over to our webinars page for an up-to-date list of upcoming events and on-demand recordings.


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