Our freeways are jammed, cars are crawling on so-called expressways and backups make traveling city streets torture.

It reminds you of the dot-com boom of 12 years ago, when a roaring economy meant gridlock on the roads. Bay Area drivers today are yelping about congestion on roads where just a year ago zipping along at the speed limit was a given.

Traffic is grinding to a halt on southbound Interstate 280 from Los Altos to San Jose, along north Highway 101 through Gilroy and Morgan Hill and at the Wilder Road ramp off Highway 24.

"Traffic has been noticeably bad the last year and a half or so during peak commute hours, coinciding exactly with the comeback of the Bay Area economy," said KQED traffic reporter Joe McConnell. "I remember that traffic actually lightened up twice in the last 10 or 11 years -- after the Internet bubble crash and after the real estate/subprime crash -- for around two years and then came roaring back."

Welcome to Roadshow's annual Dirty Dozen list of the most complained-about freeways, expressways and local streets over the past 12 months. These are not necessarily the most congested roads, but the areas that most tick us off, judging by the hundreds of complaints that Roadshow receives each week.


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"Do you have any idea what has happened to the morning commute in recent months on 85? It has become a monster," said Robin Gunn, who says her nine-mile route from the San Jose 101-85 junction to Highway 17 "has doubled in time, sometimes tripled."

The Bay Bridge approach at the toll plaza grabs top ranking. But after that, the Dirty Dozen has more new roads than it has had since it debuted in 2001.

The sea of red brake lights seems to be everywhere.

"The one highway that sticks out the most is southbound 280 in the afternoon from Los Altos to 101," said KLIV traffic director John McLeod. "After 4 p.m. that seems to be more congested than I remember from previous years."

All this gridlock comes with a cost.

The Texas Transportation Institute predicts that the growing economy means the average commuter is estimated to see an additional three hours of delay a year by 2015 and seven hours by 2020. That may not seem like a lot, but multiply it by thousands of motorists and it's huge.

By 2015, the cost of gridlock nationally will rise from $101 billion to $133 billion -- more than $900 for every commuter, and the amount of wasted fuel will jump from 1.9 billion gallons to 2.5 billion gallons -- enough to fill more than 275,000 fuel tanker trucks.

To combat more traffic, express or toll lanes will spread across the Bay Area by 2015 and double carpool lanes are planned for Highways 85 and 101 and Interstate 580.

What rankles motorists most is the feeling that some of this could be eased by minor road work and better driving habits.

Want to ease the southbound I-280 trip? Just add an extra lane near Magdalena Avenue, where the freeway dwindles from four to three lanes for a short stretch.

Or turn on the metering lights on 101 around Morgan Hill, where platoons of cars flow unimpeded onto the freeway.

Or at Wilder Road before the Caldecott Tunnel, ban cars from taking that exit and then jumping back onto Highway 24.

How drivers behave also deserves blame. More people talking on cellphones and texting adds to congestion, say safety officials and the Highway Patrol.

Bad driving habits are evident every day on the Bay Bridge, where one of the most persistent complaints involves motorists before the toll plaza who steer into the cash-only lanes, then at the last moment veer into a FasTrak lane to gain a few seconds -- while others jump from FasTrak into the cash lanes.

"Can you plead with Caltrans to put up those hard barriers bolted to the ground, just like the ones by the carpool lanes, to prevent inconsiderate jerks from causing more backups?" asked Dang Duong, of Oakland.

Another troubling sign is on I-580, where CHP officers say the morning commute can come to a stop as early as 4:45 a.m. around Tracy.

The pain is being felt across the region. Pick a highway, any highway, and the wailing is widespread.

"I just hate it," said Nancy Riley, of Brentwood, a Highway 4 commuter. "It seems like it will never be fixed, and I just want to pull all of my hair out."

Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.