People who commute on the Northway know about its morning and evening congestion and the unanticipated slowdowns from merging around exits.
If nothing changes, those problems are only expected to get worse for the more than 100,000 people who drive the superhighway every day between Albany and Saratoga counties.
To prevent the commute from becoming even slower and more stressful, transportation planners are looking at new ways to manage the traffic in the future.
A new Integrated Corridor Management Plan study recommends giving motorists more real-time information so they can avoid congestion and managing the Northway’s traffic in coordination with traffic on Route 9, which parallels it.
“Data indicates that I-87 is one of the most congested roadways in the Capital District,” the draft study finds.
The study, done for the state Department of Transportation and the Capital District Transportation Committee, is still in preliminary form. It will be discussed at a public meeting being held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the William K. Sanford Library in Colonie.
The study focuses on the Northway corridor between Exit 2 in Colonie and Exit 15 in Saratoga Springs. That area has seen enormous commercial and residential growth since the Northway was built in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
The study looks at ways of improving safety and reducing congestion, with measures like using electronic signboards and other technology to communicate with drivers, giving them more early warnings of slowdowns and other conditions ahead.
The study is being done under a $500,000 contract with consultants Parsons Brinkerhoff of New York City, which began work in 2010. The study is scheduled to be completed this summer. The Federal Highway Administration is paying 80 percent of the cost, DOT the remainder.
The Northway sees an average of 120,000 to 130,000 vehicles a day traveling between Colonie and Exit 9 in Clifton Park, and about 100,000 vehicles a day north of there, as far as Saratoga Springs. About 65 percent of traffic is southbound in the morning, a ratio that is reversed during the evening commute.
“Forecasts show that, unless corrective actions are taken, congestion and delays will continue to worsen throughout the I-87/US 9 corridor, as the Capital District’s population and employment opportunities grow,” the draft study states.
Given fiscal, right-of-way and environmental issues, there are no plans to add additional lanes to the three in each direction in that area, the study’s authors said. Instead, the consultants say an integrated corridor management plan could include measures like using additional electronic signs to alert motorists to problems earlier — perhaps even before they enter the interstate — and developing strategies to encourage commuters to travel at different times, or use other routes.
The study is also examining land use strategies to promote bus service, bicycling and pedestrian travel, especially along Route 9. Route 9 runs adjacent to the Northway from Colonie to Saratoga Springs, providing an alternative when congestion or a traffic incident affects the Northway commute.
In addition to looking at the Northway, the study recommends new access management policies on Route 9, a four-lane federal highway that is lined with businesses and residences — there are more than 400 driveways in the corridor, according to the report, meaning local travelers are mixing with through-traffic.
“Although several (Route 9) intersections operate at capacity during the afternoon peak hour, many of the roadway segments and intersections operate well,” the study finds. “Access management measures will be needed to preserve the function of this important regional arterial.”
The preliminary recommendations will be discussed in more detail at Tuesday’s public meeting at Sanford Library, 629 Albany-Shaker Road, Colonie. A formal presentation will take place at about 6 p.m., with DOT staff available to answer questions from 5:30 to 7:30.
A project information website has been created at i87route9icm.wordpress.com.
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