How much time do metro Atlantans waste in traffic?

Atlanta has once again been reminded that finishing a book on CD in one-way traffic is not normal.

The city ranked No. 9 on INRIX’s list of the top 10 U.S. cities with the worst traffic based on the average time wasted per commuter. According to the transportation analytics company, metro Atlantans spend 59 hours per commuter per year in traffic congestion.

Los Angeles topped the list with its commuters each spending 81 hours per year on the road. All 10 of America’s worst cities for traffic spent more time in traffic than all of Europe’s highest ranking cities.

According to INRIX, the high instances of commuters trapped in traffic is largely connected to positive economic changes in U.S. cities – higher employment rates, lower gas prices and economic growth.

Though Atlanta drivers have long bemoaned traffic on Interstate 75, Interstate 285 and other thoroughfares, this is the first time the city has appeared on INRIX’s list.

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It will likely not be the city’s last time on the list, said Neill Herring, lobbyist for Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Herring has worked on traffic and transit legislation since 1989.

“Every day it gets worse,” Herring said. “The optional routes have been cut off, because we’ve added so many speed bumps and stop signs, which is a good thing. But it makes for more stops in traffic … The transit options are poor. At rush hour, the buses are caught up, so the people waiting at rail stations and bus stations are stuck, too.”

There has been little relief from congestion issues via legislation, Herring said. He cites Gov. Nathan Deal’s $10 billion transportation bill as legislation that will further “strangulate” metro Atlanta’s highways. Solidifying plans to expand MARTA to the Beltline and other parts of metro Atlanta would provide more relief.

“They cannot build enough roads to handle all these cars,” Herring said. “The MARTA expansion, like the (light rail) Clifton Corridor plan and expanding into the beltline would move people. That would make MARTA a heavily used system."

Expanding commuting options would  play a major factor in improving Atlanta's traffic problem, but improving the city's roadways would also unclog the roads, said John Orr, manager of Atlanta Regional Commission's (ARC's) Transportation, Access and Mobility Division.

ARC has a long-range blueprint transportation plan that would call for spending $85 billion on improving federal, state and local thoroughfares and expanding Atlanta’s traffic “chokepoints" by 2040.

“It also includes new options for people to bypass the gridlock, such as improving the I-285/Georgia 400 interchange, and managed toll lanes on I-75 that offer a free-flowing ride to those willing to ride a bus, carpool or pay a toll," Orr said, adding that the funding would be available barring major cutbacks. Even with these investments, we can’t build our way out of congestion. No region can."

So, while building better roads and improving transit options are in limbo, metro Atlanta commuters continue to experience the adverse effects beyond simply a challenging commute, said Garrett Townsend, director of public affairs for AAA Georgia.

"Anytime motorist spend additional time commuting there is increased likelihood of driver fatigue," he said "There is also a tendency to extend the work day by dangerously using connected mobile devices behind the wheel. Time wasted in a commute takes away valuable family time and time away from other activities deemed to be more important."

Here are the top 10 cities in the U.S. with the worst traffic:

  • Los Angeles, CA – 81 hours
  • Washington, DC – 75 hours
  • San Francisco, CA – 75 hours
  • Houston, TX – 74 hours
  • New York, NY – 73 hours
  • Seattle, WA – 66 hours
  • Boston, MA – 64 hours
  • Chicago, IL – 60 hours
  • Atlanta, GA – 59 hours
  • Honolulu, HI – 49 hours
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