Austin Traffic Worsens, Study Says

February 24, 2017 by Kate Harrington

Austin commuters don’t need a study to tell them how bad traffic congestion is. Nonetheless, there is one that confirms what everyone on MoPac and I-35 is feeling: Austin’s traffic congestion has worsened.

The study from Inrix Inc., a transportation analytics firm, shows that Austin is the 13th-most congested city in the U.S. Austin is first, however, in terms of the percentage of commute time that’s taken up by standstill traffic. Drivers here can expect to spend 28 percent of their time barely moving, and 47 hours a year total in crawling traffic. That’s up from a 2012 study by Inrix, in which the total wasted each year in traffic was 38 hours.

Some sections of Austin roadway are worse than that average – the stretch of I-35 southbound between Airport Boulevard and East Slaughter Lane is now the sixth-most congested road in the country, and drivers on that part of the highway spend 63 hours annually in standstill traffic.

This isn’t news to Austin commuters, employers, and policy-makers; the Austin Chamber of Commerce release its Mobility Report at the end of 2016, emphasizing the need to address mobility solutions. And Austin Mayor Steve Adler has made mobility a priority, with a successful push last year for the passage of a $720 million mobility bond package.

Many employers aren’t waiting for infrastructure changes, but are instead creating their own mobility policies with the help of groups like Movability Austin and The Thrival Company. Both are partners in the Mobility Challenge, which helps Central Austin employers create custom mobility plans. Through that program, as well as through membership with Movability Austin, some employers have helped their employees reduce the amount of drive-alone commuting they do and replace those trips with telework, transit, ridesharing, flex hours, or a combination of options.

That’s in line with one of the recommendations in the Chamber’s report, which calls for Transportation Demand Management as one of the long-term solutions that can help address congestion. TDM is picking up in popularity around the country, and in Austin. The City has a new TDM group within its transportation department, and private developers are also beginning to adopt TDM plans.

Since time lost in traffic also means money lost in traffic – $810 million a year city-wide – there may be added incentive for individual employers to craft their own solutions. While Adler’s mobility bond passed, an earlier $1.38 billion urban rail bond failed by a wide margin. It’s not clear if or when another transit proposal will make it in front of voters.

Other cities that ranked high up in the study were Los Angeles, which took honors as the most congested city in the U.S., and Dallas, Houston, and New York City.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.