A new report confirms what hundreds of thousands of commuters already know: Metro Atlanta has a world-class traffic problem.
The 2017 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, released Tuesday, shows Atlanta has the eighth-worst traffic congestion in the world for the second consecutive year. The region rivals such renowned American traffic congestion capitals as Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, as well as international cities such as Moscow, Sao Paolo and London.
According to the report, metro Atlanta drivers wasted an average of 70 hours in traffic congestion during rush hour last year. They spent 10 percent of their driving time in congested traffic.
The transportation analytics firm collected data in 1,360 cities worldwide. It found Los Angeles was the most-congested city for the sixth consecutive year. Commuters there spent 102 hours in congestion at rush hour.
Officials say metro Atlanta is investing billions of dollars in addressing congestion by improving major highway interchanges, building new toll lanes, widening highways and expanding transit. The General Assembly may boost state transit funding – something that would have been inconceivable even a few years ago.
Besides, they say, traffic congestion is a sign that Atlanta is attracting plenty of jobs and job seekers.
“Look at the cities on this (INRIX) list,” said John Orr, who oversees transportation issues for the Atlanta Regional Commission. “These are some of the most sought-after locations on the planet.”
That's the good news. The bad news: Traffic is still expected to get worse as the region adds more than 2 million people over the next 20 years.
The INRIX scorecard is just the latest reminder that Atlanta traffic is a world-class mess.
Last month, the American Transportation Research Institute found Atlanta has some of the nation's worst truck bottlenecks, places where tractor-trailers get bogged down in traffic, including the very worst, Spaghetti Junction. And in December, a U.S. Census Bureau report also found Atlanta has some of the nation's worst traffic.
But Steven Berne doesn’t need studies to understand how bad traffic has gotten. Last summer, he moved his law practice from Midtown to Dunwoody – five minutes from his house – to reclaim the 60 to 90 minutes he spent commuting each day.
“I had enough,” he said. “I told people, ‘I surrender. Traffic wins.’”
Berne isn’t alone. Hundreds of thousands of commuters can measure their misery by the hours they waste in traffic.
But the INRIX report shows the cost also can be measured in dollars and cents: Last year, traffic congestion cost U.S. drivers nearly $305 billion in wasted time and fuel, higher costs for goods passed along to consumers and other expenses. That’s an average of $1,445 per driver.
Recent Atlanta Regional Commission surveys have found transportation remains the top concern of residents, and state and local officials have heard their cries.
After years of stalemate on transportation funding, the General Assembly raised gas and other taxes in 2015 to generate up to $1 billion annually for road and bridge improvements. That prompted a 10-year, $10 billion plan for major road improvements that includes new express lanes and other metro Atlanta projects.
The region’s long-term transportation plan calls for 21 new or rebuilt freeway interchanges and 308 miles of new lanes on key arterial roads by 2023. County governments are spending billions more for local road improvements.
Voters have approved transit expansions in Atlanta and Clayton County, and others are on the drawing board in Gwinnett and Fulton counties. The General Assembly could add significant state funding to the transit mix.
Nonetheless, the ARC believes average commute times will rise and average freeway speeds will fall in coming years, even if all the road and transit projects it envisions are completed. That’s because metro Atlanta is expected to add another 2.4 million people by 2040.
In other words, the best-case scenario is Atlanta traffic likely will get worse – just not as bad as it could be.
The ARC’s Orr looks on the bright side. He said the INRIX traffic study is an indication the Atlanta region has a booming economy that attracts jobs and job seekers.
“Adding 100,000 people a year, it’s going to be a major challenge to keep congestion at acceptable levels,” Orr said. “But we think we’ve got the plans and funding to do that. We really do.”
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