Solving Baton Rouge gridlock problem is harder than it looks, says local traffic expert

We’ve sent astronauts to the moon, created smartphones and cured certain cancers, so why can’t we solve our traffic problems?

It’s a question traffic engineer Brian Wolshon hears all the time. A civil engineering professor at LSU and the director of the Gulf Coast Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, Wolshon says everyone is a traffic engineer “and they’ll let you know it.”

In reality, though, finding solutions to traffic problems is a lot more challenging than it appears—or it would have happened already, says Wolshon, who spoke to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club at its weekly meeting today.

While Capital Region residents are convinced gridlock through this region is among the worst in the nation, Wolshon says traffic is bad everywhere and that Baton Rouge’s gridlock is actually not as bad as many locals think.

Still, there are no easy answers to fixing the problem, he says. In part, that’s because every solution creates more problems.

“For example, if we do improvements to a corridor, we can reduce congestion and save people travel time,” he says. “But then that attracts more people to the route, and pretty soon you get congestion again.”

The not-in-my-backyard factor is another reason achieving meaningful solutions is so difficult. Everyone wants improvements—as long as it doesn’t cause headaches for them.

“Widening I-10 is a perfect example of this,” he says. “Where do you decide to widen it, and how does that affect the businesses and residents in that area?”

Often, improvements are made to an area, but motorists either don’t recognize them as improvements or don’t like them. Ramp meters—signal lights at interstate on ramps—were installed on Essen Lane and I-10 several years ago. Since then, more than 131,000 hours of wasted travel time have been saved at a savings of $3.28 million a year; speeds have increased by 4 miles per hour during morning rush hour and 7 miles per hour during evening rush hour, and wrecks have decreased from 21 per year to 6 per year.

“So there are improvements being made, but it’s difficult for drivers to see it,” he says

Wolshon says plenty of ideas are on the table to continue to address the area’s traffic woes. They include adding capacity, encouraging the use of alternative models like ride sharing, and technological innovations like self-driving automobiles.

—Stephanie Riegel

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