- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The daily struggle with rush-hour traffic has not improved in the Washington metropolitan area, according to a study released yesterday by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at Texas A&M University.

The area ranked ninth of the worst cities in the nation for rush-hour delays, the study showed. In 2001, the average Washington-area rush-hour driver spent 58 hours — more than two full days — stuck in traffic. Nationally, the average rush-hour driver spent 51 hours in traffic congestion — four hours more than five years ago.

Last year, TTI ranked Washington as the third worst area nationally for gridlock throughout the day.

“That is not an improvement; it just depends on how you look at the numbers,” said Deborah DeYoung, a spokeswoman for the AAA Mid-Atlantic motor club. “If you have gridlock all the time, that is worse than just having bad rush hours.”

The Washington area ranks eighth in population nationwide, but it ties for third place with Chicago in the toll congestion takes on daily life, AAA said.

The price of delays is heavy. The average resident pays $667 per person in wasted gasoline and other costs associated with traffic. The cost to the local economy is $2.5 billion, AAA said.

Nationally, the price tag is $69.5 billion in wasted time and gas, according to TTI study, which looked at 75 cities.

The TTI study also showed that Washington-area commuters are better off than commuters in Los Angeles, where drivers spent 22 hours more, or about 90 hours, stuck in traffic than the rest of the nation in 2001.

The San Francisco-Oakland area was next at 68 hours, followed by Denver with 64 hours, Miami with 63 hours, and Chicago and Phoenix, which tied for fifth with 61 hours.

“Congestion extends to more time of the day, more roads, affects more of the travel and creates more extra travel time than in the past,” the study says.

Tim Lomax, the study’s co-author, said public transportation, traffic signals on freeway entrance ramps and other congestion-breaking measures have kept a bad situation from getting worse. For example, signal coordination aimed at smoothing the flow of traffic saved commuters 16 million hours, the study concluded.

In response to criticism about its earlier studies, TTI for the first time factored in improvements that cities are making, such as traffic-light coordination and ramp metering, as well as the benefits of public transportation, Mr. Lomax said.

The study also recommended more improvements, including road construction to handle increased demand, additional bus and car pool lanes, and adjusted work hours for commuters.

“If the same remedies were put to use on all of the major roads in all 75 of the study cities, total travel delay would fall to 22 hours per person — a 15 percent improvement,” the study said.

More than two dozen construction projects in and around the District are supposed to make travel easier, but some of these projects are not expected to be completed until 2011.

“The fixes are now being actively discussed — just as they have been for decades,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Our hope is that this terrible report card on our congestion will finally prompt action instead of still more debate.”

Researchers who completed the study analyzed data from the Federal Highway Administration and information from various state and local agencies to come up with the rankings.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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