If you commute regularly across the Valley, it may come as no surprise: The region has the fifth-worse traffic congestion in the nation, with drivers spending an average of 61 hours a year stuck in traffic.
The metropolitan area tied with Chicago for the fifth spot, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A &M University. The findings were based on 2001 data.
Local commuters can take some solace in knowing the region still is nowhere near the top metro area for traffic congestion, Los Angeles. The report found the average rush-hour driver there spent about 90 hours waiting in traffic in 2001, far more than anywhere else.
The San Francisco-Oakland area was next at 68 hours, followed by Denver (64) and Miami, Fla. (63), then the Phoenix and Chicago metro areas.
The Valley fares far worse than most places, the study concluded. Nationally, the average rush-hour driver wasted more than a full day — about 26 hours — sitting in traffic in 2001 — an increase of four hours in the last five years. The price: $69.5 billion in wasted time and gas, said the study, which looked at 75 urban areas.
The study was released less than a week after the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Council unanimously approved a $17.1 billion regional transportation plan that would be funded in large part by extending a half-cent sales tax for 20 years. The plan will go to the state Legislature in January and may go before voters in May.
The plan would widen freeways and build new ones, improve arterial streets, add light-rail lines and increase bus service. Supporters said the congestion study is evidence of the need to extend the tax.
"This validates our intent to ask the voters to support a plan that’s balanced with regard to the need for transit, congestion mitigation and freeways for our future," said Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano, MAG transportation policy committee chairman. "As the Valley has grown so rapidly, all we’ve had time to do is put the freeways in. For the next 20 years, we’ve got to diversify our transportation infrastructure."
Funding from the first halfcent sales tax will pay for the completion by 2007 of the Red Mountain and Santan freeway stretches of Loop 202 through Mesa, Gilbert and Chandler. In addition, U.S. 60 will be widened by 2007 between Val Vista Drive and Ellsworth Road, Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Nintzel said.
Nintzel said ADOT has tried to improve traffic flow by adding car-pool lanes, installing traffic signals on entry ramps and at freeway interchanges, and installing overhead freeway signs warning drivers of upcoming incidents.
"We’re never going to eliminate the rush hours in the Phoenix metropolitan area — we are just too large," Nintzel said. "One thing you can do is manage the congestion."
Tim Lomax, the study’s co-author, said public transportation, traffic signals on freeway entrance ramps and other congestion-busting measures have kept a bad situation from getting worse. For example, traffic signal coordination aimed at smoothing the flow of traffic saved commuters 16 million hours, the report said.
The study found some areas of the country where gridlock eased. The average delay dropped for commuters in San Antonio; Fresno, Calif.; and Pensacola, Fla.