The Worst Damn Freeways in America
This isn’t about how long you sit in traffic. That's just one part of it. This is about the entire godawful experience that is commuting on the US interstate system, day in and day out, navigating around terrifying Final Destination-esque scenarios, jostled by relentless potholes that the bottleneck-inducing, 365-days-a-year construction never seems to fix.
Here are the absolute worst freeways in America, as determined by a metric of suck that we’re calling the Total Horribleness Index. Basically, we combed through a ton of data from the Federal Highway Administration to find out just how awful a city's traffic really is. It's based on three main factors:
1) The amount of time you're needlessly wasting in traffic
2) The road roughness that beats the crap out of you and your car
3) The chances that you'll, you know, die
You can check our math at the bottom, after you relish in the soul-crushing, rage-inducing cauldron that is the American interstate system. Here's looking at you, Eisenhower.
12. I-95 and I-195
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.2700
Worst aspect: While the road conditions are better than average, you've got a pretty decent chance of dying on a Rhode Island interstate. But the real problem is the wildly inconsistent traffic patterns: every morning you've gotta get up 30 minutes early just to go sit in traffic... except on the days when, inexplicably, there is none, and you could've pressed that blessed snooze button a few more times.
What people are saying: "The state depletes their budget every year [to maintain the highway]. Just this year, they didn't get a real snow fall until mid-January. The state basically blows their whole load before the show is over." -- Reddit user Borsaid
11. I-76/Schuylkill Expressway
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.2726
Worst aspect: The insane duration of bottlenecks. Six hours out of every day are filled with crawling, mind-numbing traffic.
What people are saying: "It's hard to feel bad for people who live on the [uber-wealthy] Main Line, except when you remember their punishment is I-76. The narrow highway that eschews expansion because of unfortunate geography is their only way into the city to experience cool shit (errr culture). It doesn't matter if the Eagles win or lose, or even if the Eagles have an away game, the highway no one can pronounce (Schuyllkill Expressway) is permanently ground to a halt. There's no need to listen to 'Traffic and Transit on the Twos,' because the same delays play tragically on repeat, kind of like anything by Philadelphia's own, Pink." -- Laura Hayes
10. I-376/Parkway East & West
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.2992
Worst aspect: Calling the Parkway a parking lot isn't even a joke. When you take into account how slow the traffic can be and how much it fluctuates, Pittsburgh clocks in at fifth worst in the country. And then there's this: the Greenfield Bridge has been crumbling for decades, falling onto the Parkway. The solution was to build another bridge -- underneath it -- purely to catch the debris. If you believe in Christmas miracles, it's scheduled for implosion starting December 26th, 2015.
What people are saying: "If you remember the bad resurfacing they did several years ago, [...] there were a ton of accidents and I kept on calling WPXI [...] and saying 'you have to ask if there is oil coming onto the road surface.' So finally they did ask, and we were told, no, it was not oil on the surface. Well it turns out it was a bad batch and indeed it was leaking oil onto the surface and they had to resurface the whole highway. I mean, when it was the bad batch, every time it rained there was accident after accident [...] at one point at a four car accident, a state police officer gave me a pen and asked me to take the info because he had too many accidents to attend to." -- Reddit user ravia
San Jose, CA
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.3373
Worst aspect: Rough roads and... weirdness (see below) are both stressful, and in SJ, you never really know what to expect -- the traffic fluctuation here is the second worst in the entire country.
What people are saying: "I saw a big rig truck on the side of I-880 carrying a MISSILE launcher on its flat bed... with white smoke coming out of the back. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to take a picture as we drove by it too quickly, and I was in a bit of a 'What the hell is that a missile launcher on the back of a truck with smoke coming out of its wheels?' shock. It was pulled over on the right hand side of the road." -- Reddit user AndyLC
If presumably powerful and horrifyingly smoking weapons on the side of the road don’t spook you, there’s also this taser-impervious menace sprinting through traffic and clocking cops.
San Francisco, CA
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.3739
Worst aspect: It's an all-around shitshow in San Fran, with inconsistent traffic on interstates that suck time out of your day, beat you up with bumps, and potentially kill you.
What people are saying: "Driving on the I-80 over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco any time between the hours of 6am and 8pm is like willingly entering a particularly cruel insane asylum. Right before Toll Plaza, where 80 and Eisenhower and Grand converge, cars lose all sense of purpose and rules and it suddenly becomes Bombay, with cars darting across four lanes sideways, lanes suddenly closed with no explanations during rush hour, potholes popping up everywhere seemingly created by collective sadness. The one positive purpose it seems to serve is to maybe convince people that living in the Bay Area might not actually be worth it." -- Kevin Alexander
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.3964
Worst aspect: All you need to know about the horrors of I-35 as it goes through Austin is this: it’s so bad that America’s fastest highway -- the SH 130 toll road, with speed limits up to 85mph -- was built purely so people could fly past Austin’s traffic nightmare as quickly as possible.
What people are saying: "Heading south into Downtown Austin, the 200 yards before the split between the lower and upper deck, is one of the single worst places in the state of Texas. You will invariably become stuck between two semis, an oversized pick-up truck, and a Corolla that is defying science by continuing to run, even though its oil hasn't been changed since the Bush administration. You will invariably fail to Frogger your way out of the upper-deck lanes, which are the equivalent of entering a 20-minute holding cell, where you'll have ample opportunity to ponder just how weird Chick-fil-A's advertising campaign is and how much longer its creative team will be able to milk those two cows for new concepts." -- Dan Gentile
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.4359
Worst aspect: Fort Worth has traffic issues that will make grown men cry, but between the LBJ, Stemmons, and Central Expressway, Dallas is losing nearly $1 billion a year just from people sitting around doing nothing.
What people are saying: "I’ve been rear-ended on Central while doing 85mph. I’ve been very nearly rear-ended at 65mph on Stemmons at 3am. Anyone that’s driven either of those two shouldn’t be surprised by those statements. And LBJ spent so many decades as the bane of every Dallasite’s existence that the city hired a Spanish company to build a fancy multi-level system just so people could pay nearly five bucks each way, every day, to be spared the PTSD-invoking sight of the horrible traffic on the surface." -- Aaron Miller
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.4677
Worst aspect: The complete and utter randomness of winter traffic makes planning impossible.
What people are saying: "I-70; fresh pow is coming down in Vail, you packed up your gear, and you leave at 5am to go skiing. Instead, you sit for four hours in your Subaru because the goddamn Eisenhower Tunnel is closed due to an accident and isn't opening anytime soon. One time I sat for three hours waiting for the tunnel to open in the spring. Generally, things tend to be fine in the warmer months, but in the winter, it's anyone's guess. Don't even try driving it on a Sunday afternoon in ski season, unless you want to pee into Gatorade bottles on the way home when you're trapped on the highway." -- Lee Breslouer
4. The 405
Los Angeles, CA
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.4712
Worst aspect: I-5, I-10, I-105, I-110, I-210, I-405, I-605, I-710. Take your pick. They all suck, resulting in nearly 8.5 hours of traffic every single day that fluctuates more than any other city in the States. ETAs in LA are basically a crapshoot.
What people are saying: "You know when people say they could never live in LA because of the traffic? Chances are they're talking about the 405 -- the freeway literally responsible for the term 'Carmageddon.' Sure, that 'disaster' -- which happened when the freeway had to close to add lanes -- wasn't as bad as anyone predicted, but that's more due to media coverage than the shutdown itself. Since the freeway connects North and South LA and the city and the Valley, it's often responsible for traffic jams... at 2am. Seriously. Bad news." -- Jeff Miller
3. The 610 Loop
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.5129
Worst aspect: Nearly 1.2 million man-hours are lost to this Bermuda Triangle of traffic every year. The total cost of time wasted on this stretch alone is estimated at nearly $100,000,000. Ouch.
What people are saying: "She was sitting in her red Mini Cooper, part of the rest of the traffic stuck on 610, the West Loop between I-10 and Westheimer. No one likes that southbound trek, especially during morning rush hour. Should I exit Post Oak and then get back on to 610 immediately? What idiot engineer designed this bullshit? I digress. The woman was about 50, frosted hair wildly blowing in her car's A/C, and she was completely stopped. Was something wrong? Did her Mini break down? I noticed she was holding her iPhone up in front of her face - it was hard to miss with its Hello Kitty case. She also had headphones in. I wondered if she'd hear me honk. I gave a short, courtesy toot and she melted down. Yeah, she can hear me. Still stationary on 610, with five or more car lengths ahead of her, she raised her phone in anger and waved it at me, as if to say, 'Fuck you, I'm on the phone here!' "-- Reddit user Maybe_Wil_Wheaton
New Orleans, LA
Total Horribleness Rating: 0.8094
Worst aspect: The roads are among the roughest in the nation, the delays are infamous, and the only place where you're more likely to die on an interstate is in Alaska.
What people are saying: "I have lost track of how many times I have left my house to run an errand, end up sitting in gridlock for 30 mins and then eventually turning around to go home. This is ridiculous, it's getting to the point where if I can't walk to it, I just don't go." -- Reddit user partelo
Total Horribleness Rating: 1.2649
Worst aspect: The roads are far and away the roughest interstate patches in the US -- the only system remotely close is Hawaii, which should get some slack considering the whole state is one big active volcano system.
What they're saying about it: "On I-66, there is always traffic. I’ve been on 66 at 10pm and there is still traffic. I try to avoid it at all costs." -- An irate I-66 driver who wished to remain anonymous
There's actually a parody Twitter account just for I-66, and as the Washington Post points out, there are more than 100 license plates registered with some variant of "I66SUX." When pushed for an opinion, people often get very emotional: "F*CK the 66. F*ck it so hard. F*ck it with the fire of a thousand suns. No amount of money is worth it." -- Reddit user GetToTheChoppah
About the data
The majority of the data used comes from the US government. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) compiles an annual database stuffed with more statistics than a baseball archive.
Planning Time Index (PTI): This accounts for fluctuations in traffic. The higher the number, the less certain you are on any given day whether you’re going to be stuck all morning bumper-to-bumper, or show up stupid-early to work.
Travel Time Index (TTI): How slow traffic gets. The higher the number, the slower the traffic tends to get, compared to when the road is clear.
Daily Congested Hours: The total number of hours, per day, that traffic is significantly slowed
Thrillist Congestion Index (TCI): To figure out the total congestion index, we divided the total hours of daily congestion by the TTI, then multiplied that figure by the PTI, to give a true indication of how much time the traffic really does kill out of an average day.
Roughness (not shown): The International Roughness Index (yes, this actually exists) looks at road roughness by daily miles traveled. We weighted roads by how many miles they're driven each day, to account for real-world misery.
Death Rate (not shown): We then took the number of miles and multiplied them by 1/365th of the total number of annual fatalities for each area, to find how many people die each day for every mile. Hint: it's a decimal with a lot of zeroes after it.
Total Horribleness Rating: TCI x the weighted roughness x the deaths per mile = the worst part of your day, probably.
Want more of the world's best Cars delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for our daily email.
Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter. He's incredibly thankful he doesn't have to deal with any of these traffic nightmares on a daily basis.