Putting a Break on Traffic Congestion

Economic downturn has one bright side

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This economic slump we’re in may be a downer, but if you’re a car commuter there's a piece of news that  will have you tooting your horn.

For the second straight year, drivers are spending less time stuck in rush-hour traffic as high gas price prices and the economic downturn forces Americans to rethink the way they commute, WBBM reports.

A study conducted in 2007 shows the Chicago area ranks either No. 2 or No. 21 for the nation’s worst traffic, depending on how you look at the numbers.

Right behind Los Angeles, Chicago ranks No. 2 in the percentage of time that congestion adds to travel times. But the city lands at No 21. for hours of delays per year, per traveler.

It’s no surprise that traffic tie-ups are a fuel waster. The study found that congestion costs $4.2 billion a year in the Chicago region.  That’s more than 129 million gallons of excess fuel consumed a year--- 28 gallons per individual driver.

Besides wasting fuel, you’re probably wasting time, albeit not as much as you used to.

Motorists in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana spent 41 extra hours in traffic due to traffic jams on highways and major streets. As the years go farther back the hours increase. In 2006, the delay was 43 hours.  Smile, because you’ve just had a daily improvement of 18 seconds.

Tim Lomax, researcher at Texas A&M University's Texas Transportation Institute sees the upside and downsides of commuting.

"Congestion won't be as bad as before for a while, but it will still be very frustrating, very unreliable and it will take a lot of time out of your day," Lomax told WBBM. "The average traveler still needs 25 percent more time for their rush-hour trips."

Good news/bad news, really.  But, if you're one to see a silver lining, the next time you’re in a gridlock, not breaking quite as much as you did a few years ago, thank the recession for once.  Then, consider your public transportation options (Chicago's got many).

The last time traffic congestion declined was in 1991, when oil prices spiked during the first Gulf War.

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