New report: CT traffic is bad — and likely to get worse

traffic jam (Amy Rasen)Washington – Connecticut has some of the worst traffic in the nation, with snarls that cost drivers about 20 gallons of wasted fuel and dozens of hours of lost time each year — and things are likely to get worse, a new report says.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute and the traffic monitoring firm INRIX say the Bridgeport-Stamford area is the second-most congested area of its size in the nation, and motorists there spent an average of 49 hours in traffic tieups each year.

Among similar, medium-sized cities, only Honolulu had worst traffic, the study said. The “Urban Mobility Scorecard,” released Wednesday, said Hartford was the fifth most congested medium-sized city in the nation, with drivers’ spending an average of 45 hours a year in traffic delays. New Haven came in 11th, with an average of 40 hours a year in traffic jams.

Among large metropolitan areas, Washington, D.C., and its suburbs topped the list of the most congested cities, followed by Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., and the San Francisco metropolitan area.

The New York-Newark, N.J.- Connecticut metropolitan area came in fourth. Drivers in that area spent about 74 hours in traffic delays and wasted about 35 gallons of fuel.

“The problem is very large,” the report said. “In 2014, congestion caused urban Americans to travel an extra 6.9 billion hours and purchase an extra 3.1 billion gallons of fuel for a congestion cost of $160 billion. ”

The study said truckers were hit hardest, accounting for about 17 percent of the congestion cost, much more than their 7 percent of traffic.

Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said, “There is no sugarcoating that there is congestion.” But, he said, larger metropolitan areas in the nation have more severe traffic snarls.

“There’s a lot worse than what we’re dealing with,” he said.

Nursick also said the state is attacking traffic problems with “strategic and surgical-type programs” like a new speed lane on I-95 in Norwalk, which provides an extra lane between two exits, and the redesign of highway interchanges.

“They are phenomenally successful,” he said.

Nursick said there are also larger projects in the works to combat traffic, like the construction of an additional lane on I-84 near Waterbury.

But he said as many as half of the traffic jams are caused by “poor driver behavior” that results in accidents, breakdowns and other problems.

The traffic report was released just five days after the U.S. Transportation Department said that Americans drove a record 1.54 trillion miles in the first six months of this year, an increase over the 1.5 trillion miles driven in 2007.

The Urban Mobility Scorecard said congestion decreased during the recession. But almost all regions now have worse congestion than before the 2008 crash.

“Traffic problems as measured by per-commuter measures are about the same as a decade ago, but because there are so many more commuters, and more congestion during off-peak hours, total delay has increased by almost one billion hours,” the report said. “The total congestion cost has also risen with more wasted hours, greater fuel consumption and more trucks stuck in stop-and-go traffic.”

“If transportation investment continues to lag,” the report said,  “congestion will get worse.”

When Congress returns from its summer break in September, it will resume debate on federal highway spending, which provides states like Connecticut with the lion’s share of their transportation funding.

Before taking its break, Congress approved a three-month bill that will expire in October. That was the latest in a long series of short-term extensions Congress has approved because lawmakers can’t agree on a long-term plan to shore up the highway trust fund. That account, which  is financed largely through fuel taxes, has struggled in recent years to keep up with federal obligations to the states.

“Federal funding has been a problem for years,” Nursick said.

He said the states need a “stable, dependable, long-term” source of federal funding to successfully plan major transportation projects.

“We’re always on the brink of destruction when it comes to the federal funding scenario, Nursick said.
See additional charts illustrating the Connecticut traffic data on our Trend CT site.

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