September 19, 2007 in City

Area roads uncongested, relatively

By The Spokesman-Review
 

At a glance

Comparing cities

The average Spokane driver was stuck in traffic for eight hours in 2005, tied for last place among 85 cities studied.

A Seattle driver was stuck for 45 hours on average, a rank of 19.

Los Angeles drivers each spent 72 hours in traffic, the worst in the nation.

Spokane drivers spent enough time in traffic in 2005 to watch four movies, play two football games or earn a day’s salary.

In Seattle, drivers could have worked a week – plus overtime.

That’s according to the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report, released Tuesday, which says the average Spokane driver was stuck in traffic for eight hours in 2005. The Spokane metropolitan area was tied for last place – along with Brownsville, Texas – among 85 cities studied in depth.

Compare that to Seattle’s 45 hours – a rank of 19 – or 72 hours in Los Angeles, the country’s worst city in terms of congestion, according to the report.

“What makes Spokane good is we have been fairly successful” in keeping congestion out of arterials, said Glenn Miles, transportation manager for the Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC).

That’s striking, considering the area has only one major freeway, Interstate 90. Most cities have more than one, Miles said.

“We’re not quite as typical,” he said.

Over the past few years, Spokane’s congestion rating has improved relative to the rest of the country. In fact, in 2000, commuters spent about 11 hours stuck in traffic, yielding a rank of 76, the report states.

Relativity is the best way to look at the data, Miles said. The Urban Mobility Report is the top authority when it comes to national traffic trends, but the data becomes less accurate as it gets more localized, he said.

The report is based on sample sections of cities, and Spokane’s were set up more than a decade ago. If those sample sections don’t experience much growth, the Urban Mobility Report doesn’t fully reflect the region’s population expansion, Miles said.

Nobody at the Texas Transportation Institute, a division of Texas A&M University, was available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Miles said Spokane’s transportation authorities have worked to relieve traffic in the past few years by widening I-90 through Spokane Valley and upgrading north-south surface streets, such as the Maple-Ash repaving project that’s expected to be completed by Friday.

“Arterials in Spokane spend much more time carrying the load” than in other cities, Miles said. “We rely very heavily on Maple Street and Monroe and Division and Hamilton.”

The North Spokane Corridor, a north-south freeway currently under construction, is expected to relieve traffic further, Miles said.

The SRTC, which manages and analyzes traffic with federal, state and local transportation agencies, is working with the Washington State Department of Transportation to widen I-90 to the Washington-Idaho state line, he said.

The council also is working to speed up response time to collisions on I-90, Miles said.

In 2005, 54 percent of congestion delay time was due to traffic incidents, the report states.

The average Spokane driver wasted about 5 gallons of gas while stuck in traffic, a ranking of 83rd out of 85. Seattle drivers consumed about 34 extra gallons, according to the report.

All that traffic cost the everyday Spokane rush-hour driver $143 in 2005, a figure the report states is based on fuel expenses and a standard of $14.60 per hour of sitting in traffic. That cost has decreased nearly every year since 2000, when the cost of congestion was $171 per driver.

To do their part, drivers can reduce collisions by staying attentive while navigating the area.

Cell phone use while driving, including soon-to-be-illegal text messaging, can be a distraction, Miles said.

“One of the biggest issues that most urban areas have is (drivers) being aware of what is around them,” he said.


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