Ask any lifelong Erieite about the days of old and they will most certainly recall the good ol’ days when you could reach anywhere in Erie and surrounding suburbs in 20 minutes or less of driving. I remember the times when I was a young whippersnapper in the backseat of the family car, crossing 38th Street from west Millcreek to visit my grandparents off McClelland Ave. in east Erie in only 15 minutes on a busy day. Today that same journey would take at least 25 minutes just in ideal traffic conditions.
The truth of the matter is, Erie County’s traffic problem has grown exponentially since the year 2000. According to the Untied States Census Bureau, however, Erie County’s population has shrunk from 280,845 in 2000, to 278,443 in 2014. During the same time period, the population of the City of Erie has decreased from 103,717 to 99,452. With these statistics, it would seem as if the traffic itself would decrease since there are less people living in the region. Surprisingly, this is not the case.
The answer to this conundrum is right in front of us. Erie is currently undergoing a construction boom that is contained mostly to one industry: tourism. Hotels and attractions are spreading like the plague. Erie County’s hotel rooms available have increased from 3,000 in 2004, to nearly 5,000 in 2015. With more hotel rooms and attractions being built such as Waldameer and Splash Lagoon’s new wave pools and the newly announced trampoline park on Peach St., more and more people are visiting Erie and bringing their automobiles with them.
Interstate 90 traffic has also increased for similar reasons. More people from Ohio, Ontario, and New York state are traveling to Erie to take advantage of Pennsylvania’s lower sales taxes and tax exemption on clothing and often taking mini-vacations during their visits. Also, Interstate 90 is a major national thruway that stretches from coast to coast, so thousands of people pass through Erie via I-90 on any given day; a number that will likely increase now that petrol prices are at fifteen-year lows. In addition, due to increased online shopping and our society being obsessed with fast delivery, the shipping industry and trucking companies are busier than ever to deliver products to market via America’s Interstate Highways.
While this economic growth is pleasant for the economy, Erie’s roads and highways are not up to par with the influx of visitors to the Erie area. Those who frequent I-90 are well aware of the delays that can be caused by the increase in traffic as often both the slow and passing lanes are backed up with slow-moving vehicles. While this congestion is bad enough in ideal weather, it can become even more dangerous once Erie’s infamous snowfall hits. Wednesday, Jan. 13, was a textbook example of when high amounts of traffic combined with lake effect snowfall collide, resulting in an 80-car pileup that closed both eastbound lanes of I-90 around 11 a.m. in Harborcreek, sending more than a dozen people to the hospital.
Local roads face similar congestion issues. Aside from major thruways such as Peach St., Peninsula Dr., and 12th and 26th Streets, the vast majority of roadways in the City of Erie and immediate suburbs are single lanes, leaving drivers at the mercy of the “line leader.” Cases of line leaders being overly cautiously slow and break-happy can result in an excessive amount of “followers” being stuck at red traffic lights, increasing engine idling, wasting petrol, and polluting our air. “I hate with all my being when I am stuck behind a small amount of cars and the leader goes so slow through the intersection so that the light turns red again before I am able to drive through said intersection,” stated junior and licensed driver Brian Buseck. “It really grinds my gears.”
Other times it is outdated and unsynchronized traffic signals that are to blame for Brian’s and many others’ predicaments. When traffic signal are not in sync with each other, it can result in traffic being forced to stop at nearly every red signal on a roadway, and in some cases, can cause traffic from one red light to be backed up into the previous intersection. This particular dilemma is commonly observed by Prep students commuting to and from school on West 12th St., where the large influx of traffic has surpassed the outdated timed synchronization of the traffic signals. This often causes drivers in peak hours to hit nearly every red light between Greengarden Blvd. and Myrtle St. and lengthening commute times in the process.
As new hotels go up around the Bayfront and upper Peach St, so comes the traffic. In order for Erie continue on its current path, serious solutions must be found for these traffic problems, through adding traffic lanes on I-90 and local roadways, and the resynchronization of area traffic lights. If this problem is not addressed in near future, then one of the few perks of small town living will no longer remain for Erieites.