After $1.6 billion in road work, why is Interstate 35W traffic still bottlenecked?
If it feels like you’re wasting days of your life away while stuck in DFW traffic, it may be because you are.
DFW motorists are losing nearly three days of their lives per year — 67 hours per motorist — while stuck in traffic, according to an Urban Mobility Report released Thursday by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The report was based on traffic data collected nationwide in 2017.
Those lost hours don’t include the time it takes to drive to and from work under ideal road conditions. Rather, it’s the amount of time — a minute here, a minute there — that you spend stopping and going in an ocean of brake lights, often when the roads are over capacity.
“I’d be happy to reclaim nearly three full days of my year for rest and relaxation, time with my family, unfinished projects,” Susan Lynch Forbes, a resident of east Fort Worth’s Meadowbrook neighborhood, said in an email. She commutes about two hours each day to an internet technology job in North Dallas.
Forbes said she can save about 30 to 45 minutes of commute time per day by using toll lanes for part of her commute, but that’s an option she doesn’t use every day because it could cost her hundreds of dollars per month.
The amount of wasted time and fuel has steadily risen in North Texas over the years, leveling off only briefly in 2007-11 — a period of economic turmoil nationwide, when fewer cars were on the road because more people were unemployed and had less disposable income.
In 2012, Dallas-Fort Worth drivers lost an average of 57 hours stuck in traffic. In 2000, the amount of time wasted in traffic was 47 hours (just under two days).
The continued worsening of the Metroplex traffic comes even after state officials have spent billions of dollars improving commuting corridors such as Interstate 35W, Loop 820 and LBJ Freeway, and allowed corporations to build and operate dozens of miles of toll express lanes.
But the road improvements can’t keep up with the region’s tremendous growth. Fort Worth, for example, now has a population of more than 895,008, and grows by roughly 20,000 people per year.
“These are real impacts to people and businesses in our cities, and the problem does not appear to be letting up, especially for fast-growing areas,” Marc Williams, Texas Department of Transportation deputy executive director, wrote in a preamble to the 41-page report. His agency sponsored the study.
North Texas motorists also wasted nearly 80 million gallons of fuel while idling on gridlocked roads, according to the study.
The institute, which is based in College Station, conducted the study by gathering millions of pieces of data from INRIX — a Google-owned software company that collects data from motorists who use mapping, traffic and parking services such as Waze.
That data, which tracks motorists’ movements, is used to paint a detailed digital picture of traffic conditions in 494 urban areas across the U.S.
The Urban Mobility Report is published periodically (most recently in 2015), and is widely considered to be one of the most definitive measurements of congestion in the United States.
By far, the worst congestion in the U.S. was experienced in Los Angeles, where motorists lost 119 hours — nearly five full days — stuck in traffic. San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York and Boston rounded out the top five cities with the worst gridlock, according to the report.
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington was ranked No. 11 among metro areas with the worst conditions. The worst Texas metro area was Houston, where drivers lost an average of 75 hours annually (eighth worst in the U.S.).
The study was authored by institute researchers David Schrank, Bill Eisele and Tim Lomax.
“Congestion is back to its growth pattern,” the authors wrote. “The 8- to 10-year growing economy has brought traffic congestion to the highest measured levels in most U.S. cities. The myriad possible solutions – from more highways, streets and public transportation; better traffic operations; more travel options; new land development styles; advanced technology – have not worked.”