Washington drivers spent less time stuck in traffic in 2008
The 2009 Annual Congestion Report (pdf, 1.7 mb) finds that in 2008, drivers in Washington state experienced (per capita) one hour less congestion compared to 2006. The 2009 analysis shows other positive results, but many challenges remain on the horizon.
Gas prices, the economic downturn, and congestion fighting strategies are contributing to the decreases.
The lessening of congestion is primarily a result of decreased travel demand during 2008. High fuel prices seen in the first half of 2008 helped reduce travel demand on the highway system as people made efforts to save money by making fewer trips or by taking alternative modes of transportation such as vanpools or public transit. Despite much lower gas prices in the second half of 2008, the decline in travel demand continued with the economic recession that began as autumn approached. Overall, individuals in Washington drove about 400 fewer miles in 2008 than in 2006.
When the economy improves, congestion will likely return
When Washington’s economy recovers, economic growth will likely result in more drivers spending more time on the road. It is not surprising that congestion is often used as an indicator of economic health: a strong economy drives growth in travel demand which results in increasing congestion. Although congestion is used as an indicator of economic growth, it also has negative economic consequences. Even with decreased congestion during 2008, Washington’s drivers and businesses lost $765 million due to the losses in time and productivity while workers were stuck in congestion.
Expanded coverage and deeper analysis are hallmarks of the 2009 Annual Congestion Report
The 2009 Annual Congestion Report has WSDOT's first Congestion Dashboard, highlighting trends from key performance indicators to show the overall state of congestion in the central Puget Sound region.Once again, the annual report continues the tradition of supplying innovative, high-quality charts, tables, and maps to provide visual analysis of the trends and conditions reported on. WSDOT continues to ensure that the information in the report reaches a broad audience by removing technical jargon and language, and communicating performance in a manner that is relatable and easy to understand – the Performance Journalism method.
Updates to Important Measures
Travel Time Analysis
WSDOT reports on several measures that rate the reliability and average duration of congestion on multiple central Puget Sound Corridors. Average peak travel times improved on 30 of the 34 highest-demand commute routes in 2008 vs. in 2006. The average travel time savings for drivers ranged from one to nine minutes.
Delay and Vehicle Miles Traveled
On central Puget Sound corridors, total vehicle hours of delay relative to the posted speed of 60 mph saw an average decrease of 19% in 2008 vs. 2006. Statewide, delay decreased 21% against the (average) posted speed of 60 mph for all center-line highway miles. The estimated number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased 2.1% in the central Puget Sound in 2008 vs. 2006 to 14.45 million VMT.
HOV Lane Performance
The reliability of high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV) is important to combat worsening levels of congestion. The 2009 report has greatly expanded coverage of HOV performance. The central Puget Sound HOV lanes will, on average, carry 35% of all travelers in one lane during peak demand. In eight out of ten monitored locations, they will carry more people than the general purpose lanes. However, with a greater number of users, the HOV lanes are struggling to remain reliable: eight of the 14 HOV corridors failed to maintain an average speed of 45 mph for 90% of the peak hour of demand.
Now and in the future, WSDOT will continue to fight congestion with its balanced, three-part strategy, Moving Washington.
Expanded case studies, Before and After results
The 2009 Annual Congestion Report uses expanded case studies analysis and more Before and After results to show how the balanced strategies of Moving Washington are effectively fighting congestion. An analysis of 15 mobility projects financed by the 2003 Nickel and 2005 Transportation Partnership Account gas tax packages shows that users experienced a 15% improvement in peak period travel times, despite a 14% increase in volume at the same project locations. Before and After results show the operational efficiencies such as the ‘hard shoulder running’ installation on I-5 in Everett have reduced peak demand travel times by 50%, and better coordinated strategies such as construction mitigation help to manage demand.