BOSTON — Commuters on Interstate 93 could be allowed extra time to drive in the breakdown lanes as a way to ease painful rush hour traffic.
State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, has asked Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to extend travel in the I-93 breakdown lane by an hour each in the morning and evening as a short-term fix to ease congestion. He cited a recent study suggesting Boston has the worst rush-hour traffic in the country, ahead of New York and Los Angeles.
Breakdown lanes on several highways including I-93 open as regular travel lanes from 6 to 10 a.m., and again from 3 until 7 p.m.
Finegold wants to extend the hours to 5 to 10 a.m., then from 2 to 7 p.m.
Finegold, who two decades ago led regional efforts to open the I-93 breakdown lanes to Boston commuters from north of the city, said a healthy economy, changes in workplace hours and other factors mean "the time period once considered rush hour is longer than ever, and the traffic during it is only getting worse.
"We saw the dramatic impact that this change has had on reducing traffic in the years that followed," he wrote in a letter to Pollack. "I believe that history has proven that this is a realistic, low-cost solution that will save commuters time and gas money, protect the environment from unnecessary exhaust fumes, and continue to bolster our economy."
Finegold said the extra hours will mitigate the traffic problems in the short-term while policymakers come up with solutions to congestion in and around the city.
Breakdown lane travel is allowed only on weekdays between Exit 41 near Andover and the New Hampshire line. It would remain that way under Finegold's proposal.
A MassDOT spokeswoman said the department is reviewing his request.
"MassDOT is currently undergoing a study aimed at understanding traffic congestion across the commonwealth, and will use its results to inform data-driven decisions about what steps might be taken to encourage changes in driver behavior, increase the use of public transportation and enhance accommodations for travelers," the agency said.
In February, Boston was named the most congested city in the INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, edging out other major U.S. cities that have held the title.
The average Boston commuter lost 164 hours to peak traffic in 2018, wasting an estimated $2,291 in fuel and other related costs, according to the report.
"Their geography, age and density create a road network that enters a severe state of breakdown once traffic strikes," its authors wrote.
Chris Dempsey, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said Finegold "clearly recognizes that many of his constituents are dealing with soul crushing commutes" but the state needs long-term solutions such as more investment in public transit and smart tolling programs.
"As the senator notes in his letter, tackling our congestion crisis will require long-term solutions and the use of incentives," he said. "In the short-term, MassDOT needs to step up its game and be more proactive about treating traffic as a pressing and urgent regional crisis."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.