Seattle-Tacoma Traffic Among Most Unpredictable in Nation—How Does Your Commute Compare?

A new report also shows the average driver in the metro area lost 48 hours to traffic congestion in 2011.

Heavy traffic is nothing new in the Puget Sound area, but a new study shows the severity of our rush-hour jams is especially tough to predict.

The latest Urban Mobility Report, released today by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, shows drivers in the Seattle metro area, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, spent an average of 48 hours—two whole days—sitting in traffic in 2011.

That figure ties Seattle-Tacoma with Philadelphia for ninth-place among the country's 15 largest metro areas when it comes to average hours lost to traffic congestion.

Traffic along I-90 through Mercer Island is one of the state's worst traffic snarls and things have only gotten worse since tolling on the SR 520 Floating Bridge began around the start of 2012. According to officials, congestion is a key motive behind the State Legislature's plans to toll I-90, in addition to all of the additional revenue it could provide to help pay for the 520 Floating Bridge replacement.

But another aspect of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute study shows our region's traffic isn't just heavy—it's also highly unpredictable.

For the first time, researchers also measured the amount of a time a driver must plan to ensure on-time arrival 19 out of 20 times. Seattle-Tacoma's "Freeway Planning Time Index" came in at 3.99, meaning commuters must set aside 80 minutes to consistently arrive on time when traveling on a route that takes 20 minutes in light or no traffic.

The figure puts traffic the Puget Sound region at 12th most-unreliable out of 101 urban areas across the country. Despite a significantly smaller population, nearby Portland actually scored higher than our area, with an index of 4.26.

Congestion in our region got slightly worse in 2011, according to the study, with the average number of hours lost in traffic increasing from 47 to 48. But these figures are markedly lower than 2006, when the average was 54 hours.

How much time do you set aside for your daily commute? Tell us in the comments section.

Paul Calderon February 06, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Dear MI Patch and Mr. Watson. In your article today regarding the unpredictability of traffic in Seattle, there is a paragraph discussing congestion along the I-90 corridor as a prime reason for tolling I-90 (since tolling on the 520 began has made congestion there worse), and oh yes, also to help pay for the new SR520 bridge. That's the most insidiously twisted way of justifying a new "tax" on Mercer Islanders and all Washingtonians that use I-90 every day. If tolling 520 has worsened traffic on I-90, then why not remove the toll on the 520 bridge and raise revenue for the new bridge another way, like with a slightly higher gas tax, or an annual miles driven license tab tax that would be used exclusively for the new bridge, and then only for highway infrastructure maintenance? Washdot highway "officials" are not creative, have not considered the cost of tolls to captive Mercer Islanders, and keep trying to convince us with bogus arguments. BTW, who else benefits from tolling and has a vested interest in its expansion? The tolling company? Are there others?
Robert T. Brown February 07, 2013 at 12:14 AM
Interestingly enough, the company with the contract to toll State Route 520 is also in Texas.... As if this "coincidence" weren't enough, WSDOT has been known to NOT send "pay by mail" bills until after 80 days, at which point they tack on a $40 fee! (http://woodinville.patch.com/articles/no-520-toll-bill-better-track-it-down-before-fines-add-up) Furthermore, we don't need the GoodToGlitch! system to be sending out thousands of falsified bills. The supposed "traffic mitigation" that WSDOT purports to happen if I-90 is tolled is incorrect (as was their commuter distribution map) -- Mercer Island residents cannot escape the tolls, but will still have to travel on the bridge. And to add insult to injury, (Un)-Sound Transit is taking away two centre lanes for 7 years! This will cause all lanes on the bridge to be decreased to 11 feet from 12 feet in width, which, I suspect, will worsen the supposed traffic (none of which I seem to observe). If the East Channel bridge is tolled, it will become the most expensive per-mile bridge toll in the entire world, at $19.2 per mile (assuming a $4 toll).
Suzanne Davis February 07, 2013 at 03:53 AM
Reported in TheDailyBeast.com America's Worst Highways. Listed as number 7 was I-405 Southbound Corridor:WA-520/NE 14th Street/exit 14 to SE Coal Creek Parkway/Exit 10. WSDOT reported today that it was I-90 but then all their reporting is support for the Tolling of I-90. It isn't true but none the less they have their own agenda. So much much for truth and honestly in Washington State government. Suzanne Davis 7:49 PM on February 6, 2013


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