Is D.C. traffic the worst? Some studies say no

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Photo - Examiner file
While D.C. area traffic ranked worst on a study by the Texas Traffic Institute, the region ranked 9th in a similar study by GPS maker TomTom.
Examiner file While D.C. area traffic ranked worst on a study by the Texas Traffic Institute, the region ranked 9th in a similar study by GPS maker TomTom.
Local,DC,Transportation,Matt Connolly

Despite what morning drivers might think as they pound their steering wheels in frustration on the Capital Beltway, there may be worse cities for commuting.

A new study from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute ranked the Washington area as the worst in the U.S. for traffic congestion, with the average commuter losing 67 hours in delays a year. This is the fourth year in a row in which Washington sits atop the study's ranking.

Other reports, however, have put Washington lower in their rankings. Traffic data company Inrix released a study in May ranking the area sixth, with drivers wasting an average of 45 hours in traffic a year.

The surprise loser in that ranking was Honolulu, with an estimated 58 hours of wasted traffic time. Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Bridgeport, Conn., rounded out the top five.

The most recent study from GPS company TomTom, meanwhile, ranks Washington ninth in the country, with Los Angeles taking the top spot. Unlike the TTI study, TomTom uses travel times -- gathered anonymously from GPS users -- to calculate its rankings.

Tim Lomax, the TTI report's co-author, said the institute didn't have reliable enough data for smaller roads used by one-third of commuters to properly assess travel time. Rather, the rankings use speed data from Inrix and compare that with estimates of traffic volume.

"We have a process where we're working with Inrix and the states that have traffic counts to get data for those minor streets," Lomax said. "Most of the cities that have bad traffic congestion also have long travel times, though."

Marnie O'Brien Primmer, executive director of Southern California transportation coalition Mobility 21, said she was used to Los Angeles appearing on the high end of congestion rankings but that it was nice to see Washington take the top spot instead.

"It's no secret that LA is a car culture and that traffic here is brutal," she said. "But if you look at the TTI report over the past 10 years, LA is getting better."

The most recent census data put the Washington area second in the country with an average commute time of 33.8 minutes. New York is first at 34.7 minutes. The rest of the top five are Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with 32, Chicago with 31 and Atlanta with 30.5 -- with Los Angeles sitting at a relatively brisk 28.3 minutes.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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