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News flash: Traffic is getting worse

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

It’s a common dilemma for Houston motorists. Congestion in Houston increased sharply from 2013 to 2014, according to a report released Tuesday by TomTom, developer of the mapping and traffic data fed to phones and other GPS devices.

Analysts said trips in the region on average last year took 25 percent longer than they would have in free-flowing conditions, compared with 21 percent longer in 2013.

This means that a hypothetical 30-minute, congestion-free trip, on average, takes about 52 minutes at peak commuting times. For an entire year, it means drivers waste 85 hours – more than 3.5 days – plodding along the highways and streets of Houston.

It’s the first increase in TomTom’s traffic index for Houston in four years after three consecutive years of slight declines.

Growing cities with robust economies tend to experience the biggest increases in traffic. Oil price dips notwithstanding, Houston certainly fits the bill, said Tony Voigt, the program manager for the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Houston office.

Voigt said local analysis supports the conclusion in the TomTom report: More local streets and highways are more congested for more hours of the day. Even weekend trips to some spots – notably retail corridors – can be increasingly time-consuming.

“This is a result of more people living here as compared to two or three years ago and our economy being very active and healthy,” Voigt said.

The rest of the story goes on in that vein, and you can read it for yourself if you’re interested. What I’m interested in is this: The I-10 expansion project was completed in October, 2007. Certainly at the time, traffic flowed much more smoothly than it had before the project began in 2003, but just as certainly, it’s slower now. That’s especially the case for I-10 between downtown and the West Loop, since all those new drivers on the widened freeway still have to go somewhere. What I’d like to know is this: How do the average speeds on I-10 now for various stretches compare to what they were in 2003? I would expect that overall it’s still better, but is it $2.8 billion worth of better? And at what point are we going to start hearing a call to Do Something about traffic on I-10 being too damn much again? Like I said, I’m just curious. I’m sure TxDOT and/or TransStar has that data, but I’m not curious enough yet to pursue getting it and doing something with it. Am I the only one who wonders about this? For more on the report in the story, see Hair Balls and Dallas Transportation.

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