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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2013

Annual report estimates wasted time, fuel for area rush-hour commuters

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Traffic backs up at the intersection of Secor and Smith roads in Lambertville. Congestion is still well below the prerecession levels. Traffic backs up at the intersection of Secor and Smith roads in Lambertville. Congestion is still well below the prerecession levels.
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Traffic congestion cost Toledo’s rush-hour commuters about $555 each in lost time and wasted fuel in 2011, down just a hair from the year before but well below the years before the economic recession that began in 2008, according to an annual report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Cost estimates in the institute’s Urban Mobility Report were lower for Toledo than for Cleveland, Columbus, or Cincinnati, and lower than the $628 average for “medium” metropolitan areas with populations between 500,000 and 1 million.

Toledo’s calculated congestion cost was worse, however, than that of Dayton ($507), Akron ($483), or Grand Rapids, Mich. ($501), the other area cities in the “medium” category.

Among the 15 metros with 3 million or more people, Detroit was the third-least congested, while Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco-Oakland topped the list. Nashville was worst among “large” cities, Honolulu among “medium” cities, and Worcester, Mass., among “small” cities.

Nationwide, a report summary said, traffic congestion “has remained relatively stable in recent years and continues to underscore the link between traffic and the economy.”

The institute’s “travel time index,” a measure of how much longer trips take during rush hours compared with off-peak hours, stayed at 1.18 nationwide and 1.13 for Toledo.

The local figure, which means that rush-hour trips here take 13 percent longer on average than the same trip at other times, ranked the Toledo metro area 68th among the 101 cities analyzed.

While cautioning against strict comparisons between metro areas, the report’s authors said their data are especially useful for identifying traffic trends within individual cities. The institute has been compiling the data for the last 30 years.

Efforts to address congestion should include “relying on more efficient traffic management and public transportation in addition to new construction,” according to an agency statement. “Travel options such as flexible work hours and telecommuting should also be part of the mix.”

Theresa Pollick, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation in Bowling Green, said ODOT is following that advice as it pertains to traffic management, with a network of cameras, speed sensors, and message boards nearing completion in Toledo.

“This system will help area drivers to make informed decisions with the help of travel times from one location to the other,” she said.

ODOT’s reconstruction of the I-75/I-475 junction in central Toledo is intended primarily to reduce rush-hour backups on interchange ramps, and the department has projects planned to start later this year to relieve congestion at the I-475/U.S. 23 split in Sylvania Township and on I-475 near Westfield Franklin Park mall.

The 4.18 million gallons of excess fuel that the institute report says Toledo motorists — including truck drivers — burned because of slow or stopped traffic during 2011 was part of 2.9 billion gallons wasted for that reason nationwide.

Idling or slow-moving vehicles in Toledo released an extra 84 million pounds of carbon dioxide in their exhaust, the researchers said.

Much of the data, including the carbon-dioxide and fuel-waste estimates, are based on traffic-speed data gathered by INRIX, a private company that collects travel-time information nationally.

An estimated 9.2 million person-hours of traffic delays cost Toledo’s economy $202 million in 2011, which the study said ranked Toledo 78th out of the 101 metro areas. It based that figure on average per-gallon costs of $3.25 for gas and $3.69 for diesel fuel while valuing individuals’ wasted time at $16.79 per hour and trucks’ at $86.81 per hour.

That loss was estimated at $176 million in 2008, when Toledo’s overall traffic delays fell by nearly a third compared with the year before as the regional and national economies constricted under the weight of collapsing real-estate values and skyrocketing world oil prices.

“The good news is, people are going back to work, so we have a more substantial rush hour,” said Jen Sorgenfrei, a spokesman for Toledo Mayor Mike Bell.

The institute estimates that traffic congestion cost a typical Toledo commuter $958 in wasted time and fuel in 2004 and was a $271 million burden to the region as a whole, when its economy was in much better shape.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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