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Recession May Have Eased Traffic Congestion in Austin

Photo by KUT News
Austinites are spending less time stuck in traffic, according to a new study from the Texas Transportation Institute.

You might have lost your job and your home in the economic downturn, but at least you’re not spending as much time in traffic. The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at Texas A&M University released its annual Urban Mobility Report today. While it might seem hard to believe to those stuck in traffic, TTI found that congestion is lower in Austin than it was five years ago.

In 2010, the average Austinite wasted 38 hours – almost an entire work week in traffic – according to TTI. In 2005, the number was 52 hours.  Over the same period of time, Travis County's unemployment rate rose from about 4.5 percent in 2005 to around 7 percent in 2010.

“I think that’s one of the main conclusions of the study,” TTI researcher Tim Lomax said. “In an economic recession, congestion goes down.”

Of course, other factors may be at play, such as a growth in public transit, more people living close to work, commuters opting to ride their bikes, and the construction of new tollways such as 183A and SH 45.

But nothing compares to those halcyon days in 1982, when Austin commuters wasted an average of just nine hours a year being stuck in traffic jams.

The 2010 numbers put mean Austin has the fifteenth worst commute nationwide. The three cities with the longest amount of time spent in congestion were metropolitan Washington, DC (74 hours/year), Chicago (71 hours/year), and Los Angeles/Long Beach/Santa Ana (64 hours/year).

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.