Bay Area Vital Signs: Freeway Congestion Levels Off, But Delays Are Still at Record Highs
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) today unveiled its yearly analysis of Bay Area freeway congestion, with new data showing traffic-related delays leveling off in 2017 after four consecutive years of worsening commute times. Bay Area drivers each weekday last year endured an average of 3.6 minutes of congested delay during commute times, matching the historic high set in 2016. MTC defines “congested delay” as the time spent in traffic moving at speeds of less than 35 mph.
While the region’s congested-delay figures did not grow last year, the amount of time the average commuter spends in congestion each weekday has increased by more than 80 percent over the 1.9-minutes registered in the recession year of 2010.
“The good news here is that the average Bay Area commute hasn’t gotten any worse,” said MTC Chair and Rohnert Park City Councilmember Jake Mackenzie. “The bad news is that it hasn’t gotten any better either.”
Topping the list of the Bay Area’s most congested freeway segments for the fourth year in a row is the afternoon crawl on northbound U.S. 101 and eastbound Interstate 80 from Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco to the Bay Bridge’s Yerba Buena Island Tunnel, where commuters collectively log an average of 14,600 vehicle-hours of delay between 12:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. each weekday. Retaining the #2 spot on the list is the westbound I-80 drive from State Route 4 in Hercules to the Bay Bridge toll plaza, with congested conditions typically extending through at least part of this corridor from 5:25 a.m. to 6:55 p.m. This is the only segment among the region’s 10 most congested corridors on which congestion is not routinely interrupted by a mid-day break, and the only Top 10 route to involve a morning commute. Congestion on this stretch of I-80 contributes to an average of 12,650 vehicle-hours of delay each weekday.
Other consistent congestion locations include the afternoon slog on southbound U.S. 101 from Sunnyvale to San Jose, which held steady in the #3 position; the afternoon commute on northbound I-680 from Scott Creek Road in Fremont to Andrade Road in Sunol, which retained its hold on the #4 slot; and the afternoon drive on eastbound State Route 4 in Martinez to Port Chicago Highway in Concord, which rose to #5 from #10 in 2016. Mackenzie noted that much of the congestion along this segment results from merging conflicts at the junction of State Route 4 and Interstate 680, and that $34 million in state Senate Bill 1 funding approved earlier this year by the California Transportation Commission for improvements to this interchange may be suspended if Proposition 6, which would repeal SB 1, is approved by voters in November.
The afternoon drive on eastbound I-80 from West Grand Ave. in Oakland to Gilman Street in Berkeley ranked #6 on the Bay Area’s list of most congested freeway segments for 2017, moving up one spot from the previous year. At #7 on the 2017 list is the southbound I-880 afternoon commute through Oakland from Union Street to 29th Avenue, which rose seven spots from #14 in 2016. The southbound afternoon commute on I-280 from Foothill Expressway in Los Altos to downtown San Jose fell to #8 last year from #6 in 2016; the afternoon commute along eastbound State Route 24 from Oakland through the Caldecott Tunnel to Wilder Road in Orinda held its spot at #9; and the northbound I-680 afternoon commute from Sycamore Valley Road in Danville to Buskirk Avenue in Pleasant Hill rounded out the Top 10, slipping two spots from #8 in 2016.
Though many commuters have more transportation alternatives than ever before, current freeway congestion levels are higher than those experienced during previous economic booms. Since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, daily per-commuter congested delay has increased by about 65 percent while the Bay Area’s population has grown by 15 percent and the number of jobs in the region has grown by 12 percent. Over three-quarters of all congested delay in the Bay Area last year occurred on freeways in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties.
“There’s no question that our freeways haven’t kept pace with the bustling economy,“ said Mackenzie. “We have more vehicles on the road getting people to and from their jobs, more buses taking people to and from work, and more trucks making more deliveries. This highlights the need for more affordable housing closer to jobs, for better transit options and for key infrastructure projects.”
The freeway congestion data is one of several transportation indicators updated regularly as part of MTC’s web-based Vital Signs performance-monitoring initiative (www.vitalsigns.mtc.ca.gov).
MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.