Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Drive Through Houston

Like Los Angeles, Houston is known for heavy traffic and stop-and-go freeways. That’s one reason more and more tollways are springing up in that metropolitan area. The Interstates and other freeways just can’t handle the load, and people are willing to pay to avoid the delays.

Yesterday morning my wife and I drove the two hours from Victoria to Houston, took the toll road around the west side almost as far as I-45, and then drove north on 249 the short distance to Tomball. The 140+ mile trip took only two and a half hours with one quick potty stop.

We finished our business there at about lunch time and started home (after a great BBQ meal!).
Our first mistake came 5 miles later. The exit onto the toll road (to retrace our path from earlier) was backed up over a quarter mile. Looked like road construction had several lanes blocked. We decided to continue straight on 249 to I-45 south and take the inner loop (I-610) around the west side to US 59 and home.

The road we were on, which had been divided freeway, soon changed into divided road with traffic lights every quarter mile or so and lots of Saturday shoppers making their way into and out of the malls and building supply stores that seemed to be on every corner.

We progressed in spurts between the lights. One of us made the first comment expressing regret that we hadn’t fought our way through the backlog onto the toll road. It would have been faster than this.

Ha! Not the last time we would make that observation.

When we could see the I-45 overpass ahead, we eased over to the right lane to get onto the entrance ramp. Then we noticed that the traffic on that overpass wasn’t moving. Well, as we watched it DID move, but you had to be watching closely.

We had no choice but to try it, so we entered the ramp, crept up to the “freeway,” and inched our way along with the other traffic.

The miles sped by. At the approximate rate of one mile every 6-7 minutes. We never got above 20 mph, and that only for very short spurts. A few miles from I-610 loop we saw a flashing notice that there was an accident on 610. We opted to stay on I-45 all the way through downtown to the intersection of US 59 to Victoria.

Our second mistake.

We crept. We narrowly avoided several crunches as other drivers eased into our lane in front of us when there really wasn’t room. Although we tried to stay in or near the right lane to be ready to exit, it proved to be impossible. The road itself seemed to be forcing us further and further left. When the US 59 exit neared we had to cross two lanes to make the turn. We almost caused a couple of wrecks ourselves by forcing other drivers to let us in, but before the exit we were ensconced in the right-hand lane and ready.

Ah! There it is! But why is no traffic in this lane taking the exit? What are all of those barricades doing across the exit? The exit is CLOSED!!??

A sign informed us that US 59 South was closed for repairs on Saturday, March 12. OK, on to plan “C.”

We’ll continue south on I-45 (yeah, creeping, but what choice is there?) to I-610 loop on the SOUTH side of Houston and take it around to US 59 and home. But Carol notices on the map that Alternate 90 is a straighter shot to US 59, so let’s take that!

Mistake number 3.

Alternate 90 is a downtown city street with a traffic light at every corner. All seemed to be turning red as we approached. Traffic was still extremely heavy. I wondered why until we inched past the Astrodome and Reliant Field and saw all the signs directing traffic to various parking options for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which happened to be in full swing on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.

OK, enough. The drive that took us 2.5 hours this morning now took over 4 hours. Yes, we made it home with no mishaps.

Coulda been worse. I guess. Next time, I think I’ll take the toll road in spite of any construction in the on-ramp. Or, I’ll take L.A.

1 comment:

Chang Folkerts said...

Surreal is good! :)