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Twin Cities traffic back on the road to gridlock

Posted by: Tim Harlow under On the road Updated: March 6, 2014 - 1:46 PM

If it seems like we are encountering traffic jams more frequently and spending more time sitting behind the wheel, we are.

Traffic levels in Minneapolis-St. Paul rose 17 percent last year compared with 2012 levels, and motorists wasted 24.5 hours - a whole day - sitting behind the wheel. That increase of 4 hours from the previous year pushed the metro area up two spots to No. 16 on the list of America's Worst Traffic Cities according to the seventh annual Traffic Scorecard Report released this week by INRIX, the global traffic-tracking company that uses transponders in 100 million vehicles to provide real-time traffic flow data used in traffic reports.

Commuters spent 14 percent more time on the roads than they did in 2012, and drivers who use notorious metro area bottlenecks wasted as much time in their cars as motorists in the most congested cities. On southbound 35W from downtown Minneapolis to the Crosstown, motorists experience delays averaging 12 minutes a day or 48 hours a year to make the 7-mile trip.

"On some roads, commuting delays are not any different than in Austin (Texas) or New York," said INRIX's Jim Bak, who authored the report.

Gridlock on metro freeways is worst on Tuesdays from 8 to 9 a.m. when trips take 14 percent longer than normal and on Fridays from 5 to 6 p.m. when trips take an average of 20 percent longer due to traffic. Friday mornings offered the best rush hour commutes followed by Mondays from 8 to 9 a.m.

Traffic is inching along more slowly due a number of factors, Bak said. The metro area's unemployment rate is well below the national average, a growing economy and a shift in which more people - especially new college graduates - are moving to the urban core and closer to jobs are among the main reasons for more clogged roads. Stable fuel prices, consumer confidence in the economy and harsh weather also played a factor, too,

"We are seeing more freight traffic and that is what drives increases in congestion," Bak said. "That is not good for motorists, but your 401K and stock portfolio is better than it was three years ago. We take the good with the bad."

Overall, it's taking metro area drivers 14 percent longer to get from here to there no matter what time of day, but it could be worse. In Los Angeles, home of the nation's most congested roads, drivers spent 64 hours sitting in traffic, an increase of 5 hours from the previous year. In Honolulu, the nation's second worst city for traffic, drivers sat behind the wheel 60 extra hours last year while in the No. 3 city San Francisco it was 56 hours. In Austin, Texas, the fourth worst city, drivers spend 41 hours in traffic while No. 5 New York drivers logged 53 hours.

The rest of the top 10: Bridgeport, Conn., San Jose, Calif., Seattle, Boston and Washington D.C. Drivers in America's 10 worst traffic cities spent an average of 47 hours - longer than a week's vacation - behind the wheel.

Seven metro area choke points made the report's list of 200 worst roads for traffic in America. The worst was westbound 94 from Hwy. 280 to I-35W/11th Street exits in Minneapolis, ranked No. 47. Others I-35W from downtown to Crosstown, No. 81; westbound I-694 from Rice Street to Snelling Av., No. 91; eastbound Crosstown from Gleason Road to Penn Avenue, No. 121; westbound I-494 from 24th Avenue to Penn Avenue, No. 127; eastbound I-394 from Hwy. 100 to I-94 No. 137, and northbound 35W from County Road C2 to I-694 at No. 147.

Congestion was up in 61 of the nation's largest 100 metropolitan areas and grew three times faster than the Gross Domestic Product. That's important because cities and counties experiencing economic growth and dropping unemployment rates generally see increases in congestion. And with more economic growth predicted for 2014, drivers can expect to see more delays and longer commute times, Bak said.

"As the economy moves forward, we will continue to see these increases," Bak said. "When you sit in traffic longer you use more gas, and that is a drain on the economy. Infrastructure is at its max capacity. Instead of fixing the problem with more concrete, we need to use technology and software to use the existing networks more efficiently to route people and commerce across our network."

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