When it comes to highway interchange bottlenecks for truckers, Western New York has the worst such clog in the country, according to a federal study.
The interchange of I-90, the mainline State Thruway, and I-290, the Youngmann Highway, was ranked No. 1 in a study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration.
The interchange, often identified by Buffalo commuters for its location next to Amherst's "big blue water tower," beat out an interchange in Atlanta nicknamed "Spaghetti Junction" and one in Phoenix known as "the Stack."
Local truckers don't dispute that the I-90/I-290 interchange is as treacherous as it gets around here.
"I'm not very surprised," said Cheektowaga trucker Al Copozzi, who works for Bestway Express. "It does become very congested there."
Buffalo trucker Carl Allen said it's not a problem for him -- because he avoids it whenever he can. "I usually get off and run around that," he said.
Many car drivers who travel through the area agree that it's a treacherous section of the road.
"That's a struggle every day," said Joe Needham, who makes the commute from South Buffalo to his job as a Medicare analyst at Univera in Amherst. "There are always more vehicles than room to put them."
Added Tina Rath, project manager for M&T Bank in Amherst who drives the intersection each weekday on her way to and from her northern Wyoming County home, "It's pretty dangerous."
But drivers with experience in other, larger metropolitan areas were surprised that, as bad as the I-90/I-290 join is by local standards, it ranked above congestion points they have seen elsewhere.
"After living in Philadelphia and northern New Jersey, it's not that congested," said Mike Gilbert, who lives in Amherst but commutes to HSBC Arena for his job as the Sabres' public relations director.
"I mean, it's slower, but to say that's the winner . . . there's some places in northern New Jersey I'd stack up against that," he said.
The study, based on 2004 data, based its rankings by multiplying the daily minutes of delay per truck by the number of trucks of all sizes traveling the critically congested roadway each day.
The I-90/I-290 interchange registered 1.66 million hours of delay, according to the study.
The interchange of I-285 and I-85 in Atlanta -- Spaghetti Junction -- was next at 1.64 million, while "the Stack," also known as the interchange of I-17 and I-10 in Phoenix, was third at 1.61 million hours.
The study showed that 24 percent of the vehicles traveling through the interchange were trucks, which was a noticeably higher percentage than other bottlenecks. The Atlanta and Phoenix interchanges, for instance, had 10 and 13 percent, respectively.
The good news for motorists is that traffic planners are already working on finding solutions for the I-90/I-290 interchange as part of an overall plan to ease traffic woes along the mainline Thruway from the Transit Road exit to the I-190.
The so-called Buffalo Corridor study is being conducted by the state Department of Transportation and the New York State Thruway Authority.
"Obviously, the I-90 is our most heavily traveled corridor in the region, and we have to look long term at what kinds of traffic will be there," said Hal Morse, executive of the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council, the regional transportation planning group.
Morse said it's too early to discuss what might be done to alleviate the bottleneck, but he said about $63 million has been allotted toward changing the interchange. A 2000 report estimated the cost of interchange improvements at $90 million.
"We're replicating existing traffic and doing projections on future traffic," he said. "From that, alternatives will be developed and we can test them in the model."
Morse said problems with the I-90/I-290 are "no doubt influenced by our proximity to the Canadian border and the dramatic surge we have experienced in international truck traffic."
He also said $25 million has been allocated toward relocation or modification of the nearby Williamsville toll barrier "in ways that would ease the traffic lineups there that may be contributing to congestion" at the I-90/I-290 interchange.
Both projects are priority issues in the agency's long-range transportation plan, Morse said.