Growth along Route 128, I-495 brings more jobs — and traffic
The Route 128 and Interstate 495 corridors are booming once again, spinning off thousands of new jobs, but the resurgent economy may be generating a frustrating side effect: traffic congestion.
More than 8,600 new jobs are projected through 2030 in the office- and lab-packed stretch of Route 128/Interstate 95 between Weston and Burlington, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
Meanwhile, the area stretching between Natick and Westborough has morphed into a major “net importer of labor,” according to a report by Framingham State University’s MetroWest Economic Research Center. Translation: More jobs are being generated than there are local workers to fill them.
So what do these studies mean in terms of your morning drive? Commuters from across Greater Boston — as well as parts of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, and Western Massachusetts — are jamming major highways and local byways to get to their jobs by 8 or 9 each morning.
“If we have more jobs, we will have more traffic,” said Maureen Dunne, professor emeritus and researcher at the Framingham State center. “That’s one reason traffic has become heavier in recent years.”
The section of I-495 between Interstate 290 and the Massachusetts Turnpike is already over capacity, with more than 100,000 cars passing through each day, a Massachusetts Department of Transportation study noted last year.
Traffic along that busy stretch of I-495 is expected to grow another 20 to 30 percent by 2030, according to a separate report by the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission.
Meanwhile, the local stretch of Route 9 is choking on its own success, carrying 50,000 cars a day, according to the MassDOT study.
Route 128, also handling far more traffic than its design capacity, faces a similar challenge. The stretch between Route 3 in Burlington and the Mass. Pike will see traffic soar 77 percent through 2030, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
“Traffic has definitely gone up since 2010,” said Monica Tibbits-Nutt, executive director of the 128 Business Council, which runs shuttle buses between transit centers and major employers to ease the strain on the commuter artery. “It’s definitely still bad and it’s worse than it was last year.”
Gridlock on the major highways, in turn, is spreading to local roads and downtowns across the region.
Traffic backups of a mile or more on Route 135 heading into Natick Center from Framingham are far from unusual. And Route 20, whether in Sudbury, Marlborough, or Waltham, is reliably miserable.
The rising tide of traffic comes alongside a big jump in the number of jobs locally at everything from tech and biotech firms to financial services companies.
The number of jobs in 13 area communities hit a low of 169,950 in May 2009 as the recession wound down, according to the MetroWest Economic Research Center. Its study covered Ashland, Framingham, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Natick, Northborough, Sherborn, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, and Westborough.
Since hitting bottom, the region has added more than 13,000 jobs, with the biggest gains in financial services, professional, and business services, including technology, hotels, and retail, Dunne noted.
Overall, jobs in MetroWest communities now outnumber the local workforce by 26,616, meaning they are filled by commuters traveling each day from other parts of the state and beyond, according to the research center.
Yet, even as traffic mounts, local residents don’t appear to be adding to the congestion.
The number of cars and trucks registered to people living in the western suburbs has been on the decline since the recession, state Department of Transportation numbers show.
Several local communities — including Ashland, Holliston, Hudson, Lexington, Natick, Southborough, Waltham, Wayland, and Westborough — saw the number of vehicle registrations post modest declines from 2009 to early this year, the agency reports. Hopkinton saw an increase, while the overall number of vehicles in Northborough was relatively unchanged.
But all that doesn’t surprise Tibbits-Nutt. The 128 Business Council’s shuttle buses are moving commuters from all points of the compass to companies along the highway corridor, she noted.
“A lot of people are coming from Boston and Cambridge and Somerville,” Tibbits-Nutt said. “You are also seeing people from Western Massachusetts, and South and North Shore. People are definitely moving out a little bit.”