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OPINION|Drivetime Mahatma: There’s no easy cure for congestion

by Frank Fellone | November 5, 2022 at 3:39 a.m.

Greetings, Maestro of the Roadways: I spend quality time on Interstate 30 between Arkadelphia and Fort Worth. By quality time, I mean all those slowdowns when one lane is closed for repairs. I can read the entire Internet on my phone during those moments. Please explain the physics of those slowdowns. Sure, a lane closure means everyone has to slide over into the open lane, but once we are in the open lane, why does traffic have to come to a complete stop and then move at the pace of an injured snail? -- Steve from the Village

Dear Steve: As a scholar of classical literature (as if) we blame human nature, which is immutable. A driver sees his two lanes reduced to one and naturally slows down.

The Federal Highway Administration has a better and more thorough explanation, which we will try to boil down to its essence.


Enough of that. Ha! We jest. Here's more explanation from the FHA.

Congestion has seven sources. They are traffic incidents, work zones, weather, fluctuations in normal traffic, special events, traffic control devices, and physical bottlenecks. Congestion itself is defined as "too many cars trying to use the highway at the same time." A lane closure is a great example.

Congestion and reduced speed naturally result in bunching. As vehicles get closer and closer, the FHA explains, abrupt speed changes may cause shock waves to form in the traffic stream. The waves ripple backward and cause even more vehicles to slow down.

We feel your pain. We also think of Melville's Ishmael, who spoke of a damp, drizzly November in his soul. That may also be part of the problem.

On another topic, a recent column included an explanation of why a highway known as 440 is Interstate 440 south of Interstate 40, but Arkansas 440 north of Interstate 40.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation previously explained.

To be classified as an interstate, a multi-lane, controlled access highway must connect to another interstate on both ends. For example, Interstate 630 connects to Interstate 430 on the west end and to Interstate 30 on the east end. This other roadway, 440, connects to U.S. 67/167, so it can't be designated as an interstate and is referred to as Arkansas 440.

Several readers, smart ones, wrote in to say: Nay, nay, nay. And gave several examples of interstate highways that didn't connect to an interstate on both ends.

ArDot, asked for more, said two things.

First, the agency quoted Collin Raye, the country singer from little ol' De Queen: That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Second, there are exceptions, one being Interstate 530. Note its first number is odd. That indicates it does not connect to an interstate on both ends.

So confusing. We suspect the federal government is involved.

Vanity plate: 2BEFAIR. Letterkenny reference?

Print Headline: Of ripples, congestion and despair


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