Good morning, commuters!
Today should be one of the best commutes if the seventh annual INRIX Traffic Scorecard Report is accurate as Friday mornings offer up lighter traffic levels than other days of the week.
A little fog and wet pavement in some parts of the metro might add a few minutes to the drive. So far we are off to a fine start with no crashes or incidents.
I’ll be keeping an eye on the roads and rails this morning, reporting any delays or issues — and I will need your help.
If you see or hear about any congestion, delays or problems, e-mail drive@startribune or tweet @stribdrive.
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."
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has asked Minneapolis residents to not be bashful in calling 311 to report potholes on city streets. Based on how they are popping up all across the city, those operators will likely be very busy.
But first we have to get rid of the ice that has caked itself on the roads, especially in downtown Minneapolis and on residential areas where buildings and trees have blocked the sun from providing any help.
Mike Kennedy, director of Minneapolis Public Works, says that below zero weather expected this week will only make it harder to remove the half- to two-inch bullet-proof ice that has bonded to the pavement.
"It's going to be a while before we see improvements on main streets," he said. When it gets below 15 degrees "chemicals don't work as well and lose their effectiveness. We are stuck with this situation."
That means 6th Street around Target Center and other streets completely in the shade won't get the benefit of the sun's radiant energy. Look for the ice pack and washboard conditions to linger there the longest, as well as under skyways, bridge decks and other places the sun doesn't shine.
"Crews are out doing the best they can based on what Mother Nature has thrown at us," Kennedy said.
Maybe she could send warmer temperatures.
But that brings us back to potholes. They are exploding everywhere. And at this time of the year, crews can't get to them all because they are removing snow.
"We only have so many resources," Kennedy said. "There is an expectation that every pothole will be filled and that's not going to happen [immediately] Please have patience. It will be a battle."
Eventually they will get filled, but not as long as this extraordinary winter rolls on. But go ahead and report the ones you see. Potholes are logged into the city's system. Especially problematic areas get moved to the top of the repair list.
"I am asking for your help in reporting potholes," the Mayor wrote in a letter that appeared in the Fulton Nextdoor newsletter. "Please help us keep Minneapolis pothole-free. We're working as quickly as we can to fix the problems and look forward to hearing from you on where they pop up next. I appreciate your help and hope you see all the improvements soon."
The winter wallop has turned metro area roads treacherous with heavy slushy snow accumulating in between the lanes of busy highways and covering ramps, bridges and sidestreets.
Freezing temperatures and high winds will make roads deteriorate quickly, making for an icy mess that is already causing chaos on the roads.
Vehicles are slipping off the roads and crashes are mounting. Already we have nine wrecks on the system, including one blocking two lanes on northbound 169 at I-494 in Eden Prairie.
Entrance and exit ramps are extremely tricky. This list of spinouts on ramps as of 3 p.m.
Westbound 494 at France Avenue
Westbound Hwy. 36 at Rice Street
Westbound 694 at Central Avenue
Eastbound 694 at 35E in Little Canada
Transit riders won't be immune to delays either. This memo from Minnesota Valley Transit Authority officials:
A snowy, difficult commute is predicted for both this afternoon and tomorrow morning's rush hours. At this time we plan to operate our trips according to regular weekday schedules, but please keep in mind that delays could be likely.
Metro Transit also says riders can expect delays.
This from Maple Grove Transit: Buses will be running a full schedule today, but trips may get delayed due to the snow storm. Please note that many commuters are attemtping to leave for home on earlier trips out of Minneapolis. Maple Grove Transit is unable to put on additional buses, so some trips may reach their maximum carrying capacity.
SouthWest Transit riders:
For the ride home on westbound buses departing the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis after 1 p.m., riders should look for a sign that says "All Stops." That means riders can take any bus home. Those buses will serve SouthWest Station, Southwest Village and East Creek. Riders heading elsewhere will need to transfer at one of those stations.
Express buses will not stop at the Chanhassen Station. A shuttle bus will take riders from Southwest Village to the Chanhassen Station.
Route 687 from Target to the southwest suburbs: The 4:15 and 4:45 pm departures from Target North Campus will operate. The 5:15 departure will not operate.
The entire schedule for Thursday is posted on SouthWest Transit’s webpage at www.swtransit.org.
No news is good news, especially on the roads. We have had no incidents or crashes to hold up commuters. It almost feels like a Saturday with light levels of traffic.
The usual squeeze is on for eastbound 94 drivers heading into the Lowry Hill Tunnel and for westbound 94 drivers from Hwy. 61 to downtown St. Paul.
Metro Transit buses and trains are on schedule.