Going down in the rankings isn’t always a bad thing

by guest blogger Bart Treece

How bad is your commute? What would you rank it against other cities? Unlike college football, we don’t want to be number one as in the number one most congested area.

The national congestion report, released this week by the Texas Transportation Institute, is different from the BCS, and has a lot more science behind it. As you can see by USA Today’s graphics, Seattle didn’t make the top 10. We’re 12, down from 11 last year.  Take that, LA.

Washington, D.C. is number one for congestion and the study authors say that’s a mixed blessing. More congestion comes from…a recovering economy.  So, DC is congested and on its way back from the recession.

So where does that leave us?  When the Puget Sound economy comes back, traffic is going to get worse, right? Wrong! We’re on it. We’ve been on this for years. We are going to zoom ahead once our economy comes back. Congestion will improve and we’ll have people back to work. Even David Schrank who co-authored this latest report says, “WSDOT has been proactive about staying ahead of the problem,” adding that “Seattle is one of the cities that we point our finger to and say, ‘they’re doing it right!’

So what does “doing it right” mean for you in your car? You may notice some of the small changes, like ramp meters that add cars at an even pace, all the new overhead  signs on I-5, I-90 and SR 520 that adjust the speed limits or warn you about traffic or blocked lanes ahead. Ever check out our webpage and peek at our cameras to see what traffic is doing before your head out? We’re adding more of those between Marysville and Everett and into Arlington and even across Snoqualmie Pass. And everyone knows about our highways heroes, the WSDOT Incident Response teams who bail drivers out with a gallon of gas or a quick fix to a flat tire. These are all new tools we use to get you where you want to go safer and faster. It’s linked in to our traffic management centers and know as “Intelligent Transportation Systems. ” Smarter roads.

We’re adding lanes, widening freeways, adding on-ramps and building new interchanges too. Not only do these projects put Puget Sound people to work, it helps put Puget Sound in a position to handle all the newly employed drivers when the economy comes roaring back.

Over the past five years, more people have moved to the Puget Sound area, but our congestion hasn’t gotten worse, this new report proves it’s stayed steady and in some places it’s better. The worst spot in all of Puget Sound was Tukwila to Bellevue. Since we opened those new lanes and ramps on I-405, drive times have improved by 15 minutes. It’s the same story between along SR 520 from West Lake Sammamish Parkway to SR 202. If you drive those stretches every day, that time adds up.

Some of the projects nearing completion along I-405 in Bellevue (this weekend!), as well as SR 18/I-5 in Federal Way (spring 2012) and I-5 Lynnwood (next week!) will make driving safer, and improve congestion. When the economy finally picks back up, and more people go back to work, we’re in a better position to handle the returning employees. We’re looking to keep Seattle moving down the next congestion report list.