MPR's Toni Randolph has details today of a study from the Minnesota Department of Transportation that seems to have a high "huh?" factor, especially given the rhetoric surrounding the gas tax debate of the last few years in which we seemed to be portrayed as drivers stuck in transportation quicksand.
The study showed that there were 305 miles of congested freeway in the Twin Cities last year, compared to 267 miles in 2006. MnDOT defines congestion as traffic moving slower than 45 miles per hour.
I'll leave it to you, the good drivers of Minnesota, to supply your anecdotal evidence about whether you think traffic has gotten worse only since the collapse of the I-35W bridge.
The full report is here (pdf).
Theoretically, if congestion hasn't gotten any worse until the last year, it stands to reason we wouldn't hear an increasing number of complaints about traffic. And yet, we do.
Many of the complaints of recent years, though, had quite a bit to do with construction projects designed to ease it. For much of this decade, I-494/694 has been under construction, causing plenty of tie-ups. That work mostly finished in 2007. In the East Metro, the widening of I-94 took a few years and plenty of headaches to get rid of a headache; that was completed a few years ago. Those completed projects caused a welcomed respite from congestion, apparently, until now.
And, of course, not all highways are created equal. While congestion overall may be up slightly, it actually increased significantly in 2006 in some locations -- I-35W, I-94 and I-394/TH12 -- all highways that have more "congested miles" in the morning in 2006 than in 2007, according to the report.
Drivers on I-494, I-694 and I-35E all experienced an increase in congestion, although it's important to point out that one of the largest current highway construction projects in the state happens to be at the I-694 and I-35E weave.
For the most part, congestion on those major highways -- I-35W, I-694, I-94 -- has been increasing for most of the decade, but few match the congestion of late 2000, according to the report.
It would also be interesting to see what the actual average speeds of congested areas are. There's a big difference, at least in perception, between 45mph and 5mph. My commute has gotten immensely better since the first span of the Wakota bridge opened; while there's still some congestion, afternoon eastbound traffic is generally moving at 40+ mph now compared to 5-15 mph over the old bridge. I suspect that some other areas have probably gone in the other direction.
I'm part of the problem, with a long commute from home to work (having changed jobs). I should probably telecommute more!
Yes, that Eastbound traffic over the old Wakota was a nightmare. If I was at the airport, I use to drive into St. Paul just to get on Warner and Shepard Rds to come back down 61 instead. On a dark, rainy night night, it's pretty tough staying in your lane over the bridge, but it's sure better than it was.