For Immediate Release
Rebounding Economy Prompts Rise in Freeway Congestion
2 Percent Increase Ends Three-Year Decline
John Goodwin, MTC, 510.817.5862
OAKLAND, Calif., September 14, 2005 [REVISED January 17, 2006] …Brake lights could be proof that the Bay Area economy has begun to bounce back from the high-tech meltdown of recent years. Traffic congestion on Bay Area freeways increased last year for the first time since 2000, according to the latest congestion-monitoring data released today by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Caltrans District 4. The daily number of vehicle hours of delay due to congestion in the nine-county region rose by 2 percent in 2004, after dropping 18 percent in 2003, 5 percent in 2002 and 12 percent in 2001. Among the “Top 10” list of Bay Area congestion hot spots, the morning commute along westbound Interstate 80 from Hercules to the Bay Bridge retained its longtime hold on the top spot in 2004 with an average 10,080 daily vehicle hours of delay.
The congestion statistics are part of the Bay Area Transportation: State of the System 2005 project spearheaded by MTC and Caltrans. This annual initiative tracks the performance of the region’s transportation system and the condition of its facilities.
“The increase in congestion largely reflects a general uptick in the Bay Area economy in 2004,” said MTC Chair Jon Rubin. “A brighter employment picture put more workers onto Bay Area freeways last year. This same trend may be borne out by the 2005 congestion statistics, which are expected to be available early next year.”
The overall increase in Bay Area traffic congestion was accompanied by a fresh shakeup in the annual list of the Bay Area’s top 10 traffic hot spots (see fig. 1 below). While the morning approach to the Bay Bridge on Interstate 80 remained the region’s most notorious congestion location in 2004 — with daily vehicle hours of delay up a whopping 53 percent from 6,570 hours in 2003 — one commute returned to the top 10 list after a lengthy absence and three moved into the top 10 for the first time. The afternoon commute along eastbound State Route 92 from Clawiter Road to Interstate 880 in Hayward climbed to number 6 on the list from number 15 in 2003, marking this segment’s first appearance on the top 10 list since the height of the high-tech boom in 2000. Newcomers to the list for 2004 include the afternoon drive from Mill Valley to San Rafael on U.S. 101 (number 8), the morning drive along northbound U.S. 101 in San Jose from Interstate 280 to Trimble Road (number 9) and the afternoon Bay Bridge commute on eastbound Interstate 80 from west of the Yerba Buena Island tunnel out past the Powell Street exit in Emeryville (number 10).
Three of the Bay Area’s 10 worst congestion locations now involve the Bay Bridge, including the morning approach along westbound Interstate 80 (a segment that also carries traffic bound for eastbound Interstate 580 and southbound Interstate 880), the eastbound afternoon commute across the span and the afternoon approach on eastbound Interstate 80 and northbound U.S. 101 in San Francisco (number 4).
“Due to the fact that the congestion decline is reversing in the Bay Area, we need to manage our regional system more efficiently through intelligent transportation system (ITS) strategies,” said MTC Commissioner and Caltrans District 4 Director Bijan Sartipi. ITS improvements include ramp metering, changeable message signs with accurate travel times, FasTrak TM , carpooling and transit interconnectivity, as well as mechanisms — such as the 511 traveler information system—that help the public make informed travel decisions.
Interstate 580 in Alameda County is another corridor with multiple high-congestion segments. The morning drive westbound from Flynn Road at the top of the Altamont Pass to Airway Blvd. in Livermore ranked second on the Bay Area congestion list for 2004, and the afternoon drive from Hopyard Road to El Charro Road in Pleasanton came in at number 3. These routes tied for the third spot on the 2003 list.
“Interstate 580 through the Tri Valley is a vital corridor for freight as well as commuter traffic,” said MTC Commissioner and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, noting that MTC’s regional transportation plan for the Bay Area includes the addition of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in both directions of Interstate 580 through Dublin/Pleasanton and Livermore. “With 580 now firmly ensconced near the top of the congestion charts, it’s doubly important that state funding for the HOV lanes comes through sooner rather than later.”
Regionwide, the congestion data show that vehicles typically spent 124,190 hours per weekday in congested conditions (defined as average speeds below 35 miles per hour for 15 minutes or longer) on Bay Area freeways in 2004. While this marks a 2 percent increase over 2003 figures, it is far below the 177,600 hours per day recorded in 2000 at the height of the region’s technology-charged economic boom.
As in previous years, gridlock was spread throughout much of the Bay Area in 2004. The biggest overall increase in freeway congestion occurred in Alameda County, where daily vehicle hours of delay grew by over 4,000 to 50,540. The biggest percentage increase came in Marin County, where daily vehicle hours of delay rose to 7,410 in 2004 from 6,200 the year before — a 20 percent surge. Smaller percentage increases were registered in Alameda, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma counties. Overall congestion declined by 21 percent on San Francisco freeways, and smaller dips were recorded in Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties.
“Funding to improve transportation infrastructure and manage congestion is coming from a variety of sources,” explained Sartipi. “The governor has rededicated Proposition 42 monies, Bay Area voters approved seven different measures last year, and the new federal transportation program delivers funds to address congestion in several key corridors. It all adds up to billions of additional dollars to help us deliver projects to meet the area’s economic needs. We’re back in business.”
MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.
Caltrans is responsible for the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of the state highway system.
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