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OKC ranks 48th in traffic congestion

OKC ranks 48th in traffic congestion

The Journal Record

July 9, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City’s traffic congestion placed it 48th among the nation’s cities, costing an estimated $257 million annually in wasted time and fuel, according to the latest study by the Texas Transportation Institute.

Tulsa’s traffic was slightly less congested, with a cost ranking of 56th, or about $192 million lost, the annual Urban Mobility Report reveals.

The institute found traffic congestion nationwide took a slight break in the last half of 2007 from a 25-year upward trend because high gas prices at the time forced drivers to reconsider their automobile use and fuel consumption. The recession that took hold soon afterward could prolong the effect, but experts predict congestion growth will continue to rise.

This year’s report tracks a quarter century of traffic patterns in 439 U.S. urban areas from 1982 through 2007, the latest data available. The report was prepared by institute researchers David Schrank and Tim Lomax, who predict that when the economy rebounds traffic problems will do likewise.

“The Northeastern states and Texas in the mid-1980s and California in the ‘90s are three regions that give us an idea what to expect,” Lomax said. “In each of those cases, when the economy rebounded, so did the traffic problem.”

Association of Central Oklahoma Governments spokesman Jerry Church said his organization also has tracked traffic congestion in order to help develop effective transportation plans in the metro area, and has found the biggest factor is fuel prices.

“Last year, we had a huge gas price increase in April, May and June, and it corresponded with the Federal Highway Trust Fund basically going bankrupt last summer,” Church said. “And it all ties into the fact that people were driving less.

“I noticed last May, driving to work, that I-40 was like a ghost town. Bus ridership had increased over that time as well,” he said.

Like the institute researchers, Church doesn’t believe traffic congestion will decrease for long. In just the last month, the Oklahoma City regional gas price average has dropped 10 cents to about $2.25 per gallon.

“The human animal is not that smart; we don’t have a vast memory. As painful as last May was, we’re already driving more, faster and recklessly,” he said. “I wish people weren’t so susceptible to minor changes in gasoline prices. It’s hard for us to plan our transportation system on these constant ebbs and flows. There’s a lot of market impact on how we structure the system.”

Institute researchers found travelers nationwide spent on average one hour less stuck in traffic in 2007 than they did the year before and wasted one gallon less than the year before.

“This is a very small change. No one should expect to be driving the speed limit on their way to work because of this,” Schrank said, because the average traveler still needs 25 percent more time for those trips.

Nationwide, the total amount of wasted fuel topped 2.8 billion gallons, or about three weeks’ worth of gas for each traveler, and total time wasted totaled 4.2 billion hours, or about one full workweek per person, according to the study.

Oklahoma City travelers lost 12.8 million hours and 8.3 million gallons of fuel for the reporting period, compared with 9.8 million hours and 5.6 million gallons for Tulsa travelers. Cities with similar congestion problems, falling on the list between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, included Albuquerque, N.M.; Richmond, Va.; and Honolulu, Hawaii.

The worst congestion problems in the country were reported in the combined metro area of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana, Calif., with 485 million hours and 367 million gallons of fuel lost; and in the New York and Newark, N.J., metro area with 379 million hours and 239 million gallons lost.

Congestion in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in Texas was more than 10 times worse than Oklahoma City, the study shows.

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