Did you lose 138 hours to Seattle-area traffic last year? New report ranks 5 other cities even worse

A Seattle-area driver who commuted at the slowest time of day would have lost 138 hours last year due to congestion, according to the 2018 annual scorecard by INRIX, the worldwide traffic-data firm based in Kirkland.

That makes Seattle-area traffic the sixth most congested among major U.S. cities in INRIX’s Annual Congestion Report released Monday night.

Boston traffic was the slowest among major U.S. cities, with an average of 164 hours of delays, followed by Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore.

Seattle also ranked sixth a year earlier, using different methodology. A year ago, Everett won dishonorable mention as the city where congestion lingers the most hours a day.

“If we’re to avoid traffic congestion becoming a further drain on our economy, we must invest in intelligent transportation systems to tackle our mobility challenges,” Trevor Reed, INRIX transportation analyst, wrote in the report released Monday night.

Reed cited Singapore-style tolling to reduce congestion, Paris subway stations every 550 meters, and “bicycle superhighways” in London.

“While vehicle-based commuting is severely impaired in European cities, their overall mobility is much higher due to the diversity of mode options,” he wrote. He also praised “Vision Zero” efforts to lower pedestrian deaths in New York by calming crosstown traffic, to show how solutions should be tailored to each city’s needs.

For years, the rankings were cited by politicians, frustrated drivers, and sometimes INRIX itself to endorse highway expansions.

Currently, drives from Everett to Seattle or Bellevue can take 80 minutes, and while Seattle has America’s fastest transit growth, Sound Transit needs two decades to finish a voter-approved network of high-capacity rail.

In reaching a figure like Seattle’s 138 hours of delay, INRIX calculated the worst daily drive from the outer fringe of the metro area, perhaps 20 miles away, to the core and then compared that to free-flowing traffic. Such a driver lost $1,932 worth of operating costs and time, the report says.

INRIX also pointed out that when road demand exceeds capacity, the economy suffers, citing the American Transportation Research Group’s estimate of $66 billion in urban-area losses through truck delays.

The company says it collects data from 300 million devices worldwide, which include personal navigation software and state-owned vehicle counters.

Washington state is still ramping up the Connecting Washington program funded by 2015-16 increases in the gas tax. Projects include a bigger Highway 520 in Seattle; an I-405 widening to add mostly toll lanes in Renton; a widening of Highway 167 sections near Auburn; more I-5 lanes at Joint Base Lewis-McChord; and the North Spokane Corridor that creates a long-awaited freight bypass but promotes sprawl.

Now the Legislature, led by Senate Transportation Committee chairman Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, is looking at carbon taxes and vehicle taxes, for highways and environmental programs.

Congestion rankings are often assailed by critics who call them propaganda for freeway-mad transportation officials.

“It’s probably an unrealistic expectation to believe we ought to have enough freeways that people can always go over the speed limit, or even at the speed limit,” said Joe Cortwright, a Portland economist who writes the City Commentary newsletter.

Last summer, state Transportation Secretary Roger Millar told a convention of highway officials in Spokane it would take $115 billion, or a $2.20 gas-tax increase, to construct enough highway lanes to assure 60 mph traffic.

“Simply put, we cannot build our way out of congestion,” he said.


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