I-45, also known as the Gulf Freeway, in Houston is a major artery freeway that brings traffic to and from Downtown from the south side of Houston. All interstates going through major cities, however, are plagued by frequent traffic jams, especially during rush hour times. The reason being that I-45 is build on top of US 75, the freeway system that predates the Interstate Highway System put into place by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
1. Ride the bus
Houston is only starting to accept the notion that public transportation is a viable option for suburb commuters. There is a light rail downtown and new buses available for travel along I-45. Find a “Park and Ride” station near your home, park your car, get on the bus and get dropped off downtown. Transfers are free. The time you spend waiting for the bus is a lot less than the time you spend waiting in traffic. Homeless people do not ride the commuter buses and they operate from about 4am in the morning to about 9pm in the evening with a great deal of frequently. There are several park and ride stations along the I-45 freeway in Houston.
2. Use the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane
In Houston, there is a 2 way “carpool” lane designed for people travelling with 2 or more passengers. There is a HOV lane that tracks I-45 in Houston. In the mornings traffic goes 1 way towards downtown and in the evening traffic is sent away from downtown 1 way.
I highly recommend using the HOV lanes as they cut a 50 minute commute to 20 to 25 minutes. It is free but the only warning is that the HOV exits are not necessarily where you want them to be. It can be a challenge finding the HOV on ramp as well, since you cannot access it directly from I-45 in some cases.
3. Check the Houston traffic map before you take I-45
If you cannot take the bus or have someone carpool with you, one smart way to avoid the bottlenecks on I-45 is to check the traffic before you head out. Traffic maps give you news about road closures, accidents, and other issues that may affect your commute. There are several side streets in Houston that can get you past the traffic jams on I-45 near Scott Street. It is helpful to review the map before heading out the door. Those 5 minutes can save you 30 minutes on the road.
4. Use your smartphone to outsmart the I-45 bottleneck in Houston
If you’re on the freeway, have a passenger use your smartphone to find less congested routes. This is especially helpful if your car is stopped in traffic and you are trying to decide if taking the next exit is worth the time.
Houston TranStar has a new app called the Mobile Route Builder for smart phone users. It helps commuters discover road conditions on their way to work. The app permits users to create and view routes in real-time. It is available for Windows phones, Blackberries, Android-enabled phones and iPhones.
Unlike FM traffic reports, this program collects information from roadway sensors to give a realistic account of travel time and average roadway speeds. Route Builder is free service.
5. Build a GPS route that avoids highways
The simple truth about freeway traffic near downtown Houston is that it is impossible to get around. You can save a great deal of time taking side streets to your destination once you get close enough. To do this effectively, take the exit before Scott Street and plot a non-highway course on your GPS. If you use Garmin, for example, there are options in the “Avoidance” menu that lets you avoid major streets. A quick button to press includes “Detour”.