New Jersey’s drivers have grown so accustomed to traffic that they don’t even recognize a congested road when they see one. But that doesn’t mean their commutes are stress free. In an on-line survey of nearly 1,400 drivers, 96 percent said they felt stress while driving to work.
The survey was posted on New Jersey Institute of Technology’s (NJIT) website from March through August 2003, drawing 1,393 responses. The drivers were invited to take the 15-minute Web-based survey.
The cyber survey, conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and co-sponsored by the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT), asked Garden State drivers to view six video clips of simulated traffic. The drivers were then asked to rate the computer images of congestion. Repeatedly New Jersey drivers rated roads that, by national standards are considered congested, as uncongested.
"The survey shows that New Jersey drivers are much more acclimated to traffic than drivers in most parts of the nation,” said Lazar Spasovic, the director of the National Center for Transportation and Industrial Productivity at NJIT who designed the survey for the DOT.
As they viewed video simulations of cars driving through congested intersections and freeways,” Spasovic added, respondents seemed unfazed. They repeatedly failed to realize they were witnessing traffic conditions that, according to national traffic criteria, are considered heavily congested.
And though drivers appeared inured to congestion, it’s nevertheless taken a toll. When asked if they experience stress while driving to and from work, “a whopping 96 percent said they felt at least some stress, with 58 percent experiencing stress ‘often, very often or always,’” said Spasovic.
New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere said his office would use the survey results help to combat congestion. “We have national measures for what constitutes congestion, but New Jersey is a unique environment and we wanted to find out how our motorists perceive the problem,” Lettiere said. “Rather than assume the answers are obvious, we preferred that motorists share their experiences first hand. Using the results will help us prioritize where we target funding for congestion relief projects and provide valuable data as we fight sprawl under Gov. McGreevey’s Smart Growth policy.”
The survey also asked drivers to list five locations, either roadways or intersections, where they consistently encounter traffic. Topping the list as the most congested spot in the state was the Garden State Parkway’s Union Toll Plaza. The second most aggravating location was the Route 295 and Route 42 Interchange in Camden County. Third honors went to the Lincoln Tunnel approach in Hudson County. The Garden State Parkway and Route 280 Interchange in Essex County and the Route 24 and Route 78 Interchange in Union County rounded off the top five list.
“Unclogging America’s Arteries: Effective Relief for Highway Bottlenecks,” a report released in February of 2004 by the American Highway Users Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization, identified different bottlenecks in New Jersey. In marked contrast to this report, which looked at high-volume roads to determine congestion, NJIT’s study is based on drivers’ experience. Another important distinction between the two studies is that the bottleneck report excludes toll facilities, bridges and tunnels, which topped the list of locations identified in NJIT’s survey. One location, however, shows up on both lists: the Garden State Parkway’s Union Toll Plaza at Route 78, the most congested location identified in NJIT’s survey, and the second worst bottleneck listed in the American Highway Users Alliance study.
The NJIT survey also found that the drivers’ average commute to work was 26 miles, which takes them an average of 41 minutes. The top three factors drivers consider in choosing a route are “minimize travel time,” “minimize time spent in heavy traffic” and “reliability of travel time.”
Eighty-one percent of respondents also said they drive alone.
The respondents took the survey anonymously. When asked to comment in general about roadway woes, respondents offered a range of suggestions:
“When I travel from my house to the mall, which should only take 5 minutes, and I wait in traffic for 30 minutes, something needs to be done.”
“NJ has the worst roads. The state is over-congested and over-developed and the roads reflect that. Every year it takes me 25 percent longer to get where I want to go.”
“What's the delay? Rome was built in three days! So how about moving along so this traffic-nightmare-of a state is fixed and improved in my lifetime.”
“Why hasn't anyone considered building a monorail system that would run the entire length of the Parkway?”