Sam Kartalis: Traffic Congestion—You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!

Sam Kartalis
Sam Kartalis

Forget the mounds of traffic statistics and reports from public institutions and the media. Get into your favorite mode of transportation and dare to drive from downtown Dallas to U.S. 380, or vice versa, during morning and evening rush hours. I dare you! And, incidentally, forget about the days when you could leave a little later in the morning or evenings to miss the heaviest traffic; it’s no longer possible. Also, forget about traveling south in the evenings because it’s lightly trafficked, or how driving north in the morning “ain’t no problem.” Wrong! Traffic is terrible in both directions almost all day long, except in the late evening and early mornings when older folks like me are comfortably ensconced in our favorite arm chair or tucked into bed.

Years ago, I can remember taking advantage of the Dallas North Tollway in the wee hours of the morning to see how fast I could take the turns north of LBJ Freeway, and few drivers were on the road to watch me zoom by, except for Smokey, the state policeman who hung out at the toll booth near downtown.  He and I became great friends when he would always catch me at the Belt Line exit; it took him that long to catch up!

Try that today. Actually, don’t try that today. Even at that hour, today’s traffic gives us no chance to clean out our carburetors. (And I know I’m exposing my age by even mentioning “carburetors!”)

My wife and I moved to Plano early in 2007 in order to escape Dallas’ growing population and congestion; back then, Plano actually had some wide-open land, which gave us a distinct bucolic setting. Nine years later, my travel south to my office takes me twice as long to negotiate, on a good day, and my bucolic setting is now covered in 5 inches of concrete, along with a few heat-ravaged bushes.

Nevertheless, we love living in Plano. But for all of us who have moved or are moving to the city or other points north, beware, your life has changed, and all because of the traffic congestion on the toll road and Central Expressway. The feeder roads are no better.

For example, my wife and I now avoid traveling to our favorite restaurant, Al Biernat’s. And I no longer go to early morning or evening business meetings. There’s too much traffic!

My poker group, which was founded in 1977 when our office was in downtown Dallas and no one lived north of Campbell Road, has changed significantly. Our members live anywhere from Walnut Hill Lane to the south and Parker to the north. This past year, 39 years later, we’ve had to change our hours of gambling in order to accommodate those of us having to travel either north or south to a member’s home. Our ingestion of alcoholic beverages is almost nonexistent, because of the terrifying drives we now have to make to get to our respective homes using the toll road.  (Truth be known, at our advanced ages, we can’t handle much alcohol anyway.) And taking a trip from Plano to Belt Line (forget going south of LBJ) is now a major undertaking, with advanced planning required.

Suffice it to say that our growth and accompanying congestion has changed our lives. Learning that  Houston and Austin traffic is many times worse than ours does nothing to make me feel better when I’m crawling on the toll road, pounding my steering wheel in frustration while traveling at the speed of a turtle!  Oh, and how do you feel when you look across at another driver and see them balancing their mobile phone on their steering wheel while they’re texting? This has now replaced the good ol’ boys who always had a cold beer in their mitts. Take your pick!

As North Texas continues to see robust population growth, the dynamics have changed dramatically and will continue to impact the old formulas for choosing your neighborhoods.  Recently, one of my friends who has lived in Plano for 16 years (and has thoroughly enjoyed it), finally convinced his wife that a move south to the Park Cities was necessary simply because he was spending too much time stuck in traffic, trying to conduct his business. Living south and working north of LBJ, or living north and working south of LBJ, is now a daunting real-life consideration for new and old homeowners. The State Highway 121/Dallas North Tollway intersection is definitely the region’s new center. The new lanes being added to the toll road will only manage to alleviate existing congestion. What happens when all of our new and expected job creators open for business and move their families here?

Again, forget the statistics. Take a ride up and down the toll road any time, any day, and get your answer “by the seat of your pants!”