Everything’s big in Texas and Houston is no exception. The metropolitan area covers eight counties and is bigger than New Jersey. At 88 miles, Beltway 8 is one of the longest ring roads in the world. Getting around in Houston takes time.
You will need to be conservative in calculating your driving time. Always add ten or fifteen minutes, even when using your GPS. And don’t count on side street short cuts to shave minutes off your time. The locals know all about these and use them, too.
A “reverse commute” doesn’t exist in Houston. Going against rush hour traffic can be a little better than with it, but it’s still bad. So here are a few tips to help turn a greenhorn into a longhorn.
Houston highways have nicknames and you must learn them. Sometimes the names change depending on what part of the highway you’re on. It can get especially confusing when the name involves compass directions, as in “Eastbound South Loop West.” Here are a few of the major ones:
I-10 west of I-45 is “Katy Freeway” while east of it is “Baytown East Freeway.”
The section of US 59 that lies south of I-45 is “Southwest Freeway” and north of it is called “Eastex Freeway.”
I-610 is the “Inner Loop.” It is further broken up into “North Loop” and “North Loop West,” etc. You get the idea.
When exiting off the highways, you will find yourself on what are known as “feeder roads.” These are slower speed roads running parallel to the major freeways which are there for smoother on and off access to the city’s cross streets. It’s a phenomenon you will find in other major cities in Texas as well. They take some of the load off the freeways while making axis to where ever you want to get to easier.
One of the problems with feeders is that your GPS might not know exactly where you are. It might think you are still on the freeway and try to reroute you.
The feeders are multiple lane and comfortably wide. (Everything’s big in Texas.) The far-left lane almost always allows a U-turn at any light that can handle the turning radius of a used Dodge Durango in Houston.
Invest in an EZ Tag
EZ Tag is Houston’s version of EZ Pass that lets you pass right through the toll booths without stopping and eliminates the hassle of having to keep change handy in your car. Toll roads are difficult to avoid in Houston, so just suck it up and get an EZ Tag. (You can get it through the HCTRA website or by calling 281-875-3279.)
Watch for flooding. When it rains in Houston, it pours. The city is pretty flat and low, so water can pool and it’s hard to judge the depth sometimes.
Houston is famous for drivers who ignore inclement weather, speed limits and signaling lane changes. Drive defensively and resist the temptation to reciprocate. Texans love guns.