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Slowing Economy Leads to Lighter Traffic on Bay Area Freeways in 2008

New Projects Improve Mobility in Key Corridors

Video of the May 27, 2009 press conference. (29 minutes; requires Flash.)

Steve Kinsey, MTC Commissioner and Marin County Supervisor (left); MTC Chair and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty (center); and Bijan Sartipi, MTC Commissioner and Caltrans District 4 Director (right). Photo by Peter Beeler More photos

John Goodwin, MTC - 510-817-5862
Lauren Wonder, Caltrans - 510-286-6120

OAKLAND, Calif., May 27, 2009 . . .
Those seeking a concrete measure of the recession’s impact on the Bay Area may need to look no further than the nearest freeway. Traffic congestion on Bay Area freeways fell last year for the first time since 2003, 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 dropped 12 percent in 2008. Among the “Top 10” list of congestion hot spots for 2008, the morning commute along westbound Interstate 80 to the Bay Bridge toll plaza retained its longtime hold on the top spot with an average 7,800 daily vehicle hours of delay.

Bay Area motorists experienced 142,400 vehicle hours of delay during the morning and afternoon commute periods on an average weekday during 2008 (see “Daily Freeway Delay by Bay Area County” at . This is the lowest regionwide total since the 135,700 hours recorded in 2005 and nearly 20 percent below the 177,600 hours registered at the height of the high-tech boom in 2000. The close historical correlation between the performance of the Bay Area economy (as represented by number of jobs) and the amount of commute-hour congestion on the region’s freeways is illustrated in the chart “Vehicle Hours of Delay vs. Employment, San Francisco Bay Area, 2000-2008” at

Ramp Metering Yields Dividends

“The drop in congestion reflects both the slowdown in the Bay Area job market that began last year and the positive effect of new highway improvements that came on line in 2008,” said MTC Chair and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. “One of the biggest improvements is expanded ramp metering. Near my home in Dublin, for example, ramp meters were activated last year along both directions of Interstate 580. And the data show eastbound afternoon congestion plunged 29 percent (to 5,250 vehicle hours of delay in 2008 from 7,410 hours in 2007) and westbound morning congestion fell 17 percent (to 4,240 hours last year from 5,120 hours in 2007). We can expect additional congestion relief later this year when the eastern portion of the I-580 HOV lane project is completed.

“The new Transportation 2035 Plan that MTC adopted last month,” continued Haggerty, “commits $1.6 billion to a Freeway Performance Initiative that will expand ramp metering and make other operational improvements to freeways throughout the region over the next five to seven years. Drivers in all nine Bay Area counties can look forward to the kind of time savings that I-580 commuters are already experiencing.”

Sorting Out the Top 10

The eastbound afternoon commute along I-580 through the Tri-Valley dropped one spot to number 3 on the Top 10 list for 2008 while the westbound morning commute slipped to number 6 on the 2008 list from number 4 a year earlier. Other notable congestion hot spots that experienced a reduction in delay in 2008 include the morning commute on westbound Interstate 80 from Powell Street in Emeryville to the Bay Bridge. While this busy stretch once again topped the list of the region’s most congested freeway locations (see “Bay Area Freeway Locations with Most Delay During Commute Hours, 2008” at ), delay along the corridor fell almost 8 percent in 2008 to 7,800 daily vehicle hours of delay from the 8,450 hours of delay recorded on an average day in 2007.

“Morning commuters on westbound I-80 have faced the most congestion in the Bay Area for many years,” noted Caltrans District 4 Director and MTC Commissioner Bijan Sartipi. “And that corridor is likely to stay on top of the list for many years to come. However, we have seen traffic patterns along the I-80 corridor gradually change over the past several years. While we used to see virtually continuous congestion from State Route 4 in Hercules all the way to the Bay Bridge, the morning commute has been evolving into several separate congested segments.” L ast year, Sartipi pointed out, this pattern was more pronounced than in previous years, with researchers identifying three distinct sections of congestion along the corridor separated by short stretches of faster-moving traffic. The first such segment ran from State Route 4 to Central Avenue in El Cerrito; a second one ran from Golden Gate Fields to Powell Street in Emeryville; finally, the most congested section was from Emeryville to the Bay Bridge toll plaza. “In response,” said Sartipi, “we will work with our local and regional partners in the next few years to implement some of the latest and most innovative intelligent transportation systems along this corridor, aiming to enhance mobility while protecting the environment.”

Nine of the top 10 regional hot spots were on the 2007 list as well. The sole newcomer was the eastbound afternoon commute along State Route 4 from Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg to Somersville Road in Antioch, which climbed to number 10 on the charts from number 11 in 2007 although average daily vehicle hours of delay on this segment remained steady at 3,140. The only freeway corridor to drop out of the Top 10 was the southbound morning commute on Interstate 880 from Marina Boulevard in San Leandro to Industrial Parkway in Hayward, which fell from number 8 in 2007 to number 23 last year, with average delays plummeting almost 54 percent to just 1,760 vehicle hours per day in 2008 from 3,790 hours a year earlier. This improvement is largely due to the additional lane on southbound I-880 between the I-238 connector ramp and the A Street exit that was constructed as part of the current I-238 improvement project. Also, there was a 12 percent reduction in morning peak-period traffic volumes between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on southbound I-880 at Industrial Parkway.

Reductions in delay also were recorded at several other gridlock-heavy Bay Area locations in 2008:

  • The afternoon drive along northbound U.S. 101 and eastbound I-80 in San Francisco, from the 101/Alemany Boulevard interchange to the Bay Bridge, climbed one notch to #4 on the Top 10 list, but hours of delay fell 9 percent to 4,330 from 4,760 in 2007. With completion of construction on the important West Approach seismic retrofit and replacement project, traffic is flowing more smoothly in this area.
  • The morning trip along westbound State Route 4 from Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch to Solano Way in Concord rose one spot to #5 on the Top 10 list, though average hours of delay dropped 9 percent to 4,300 last year from 4,750 hours in 2007.
  • The afternoon commute on eastbound State Route 92 from Clawiter Road to Interstate 880 in Hayward fell two spots from #7 to #9 on the Top 10 list and registered a 19 percent decline in congestion in 2008 (3,200 hours of delay, down from 3,929 hours in 2007). The ongoing construction work being done as part of the voter-approved State Route 92/ Interstate 880 interchange reconstruction is expected to alleviate the existing recurrent congestion once completed.

Delays last year increased along two of the Bay Area’s 10 most congested corridors. These include the southbound afternoon drive along U.S. 101 from Fair Oaks Avenue in Sunnyvale to North 13 th Street in San Jose (#7 on the Top 10 list), where congestion rose 19 percent from 3,210 vehicle hours of delay in 2007 to 3,810 hours last year. In Marin County, the morning commute on southbound U.S. 101 from State Route 37 in Novato to just south of Lincoln Avenue in San Rafael climbed a spot to #2 on the regional Top 10 list, as congestion delays increased from 6,490 hours in 2007 to 6,770 hours last year.

Carpool Lanes Bring Relief to Marin; Express Lanes Promise Additional Benefits to Region

Sartipi pointed out that the increased congestion along the Marin County segment of U.S. 101 will be alleviated now that the high-occupancy vehicle lanes opened earlier this year in both the northbound and southbound directions. “We are seeing tremendous travel time improvement and no congestion,” he explained. “We expect the 2009 congestion for U.S. 101 in Marin County to be much lower than it has been for many years. Recent travel time data shows this is a project that is really paying off as expected.”

Haggerty pointed out additional improvements coming to other traditionally congested freeway corridors in the years ahead. “The I-880/State Route 92 interchange project is moving ahead nicely and will help speed travel for motorists on both freeways when it wraps up in 2011.

The region’s first freeway express lanes are scheduled to open late next year on I-680 and in late 2011 on I-580 in Alameda County after projects on both directions of I-580 are completed. The lanes will be free for carpoolers and buses, and also available to solo drivers who choose to pay a toll. Express lanes have been in use for years in Southern California and other areas around the country, and they’ve proven to be an extremely effective way to improve mobility for all drivers.”

At the county level, Alameda County experienced the greatest amount of freeway congestion (defined as average speeds below 35 miles per hour for 15 minutes or longer) in 2008, with 53 ,000 daily vehicle hours of delay. Coming in a distant second, with 27,000 daily vehicle hours of delay, is Santa Clara County. Next in line are Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties with, respectively, 23,200, 11,500, 10,300 and 9,300 daily vehicle hours of delay.

The 2008 congestion statistics are part of an annual initiative that tracks the performance of the region’s transportation system. 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.

NOTE: A complete list of all Bay Area freeway segments monitored, a ranked list of the top 50 congested locations, and a selection of photos also are available for download from this page, or on the MTC Web site at: .

Scott HaggertyScott Haggerty, MTC Commission Chair and Alameda County Supervisor

Bijan SartipiBijan Sartipi, MTC Commissioner and Caltrans District 4 Director

Steve KinseySteve Kinsey, MTC Commissioner and Marin County Supervisor (photos by Peter Beeler)

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