Denver traffic congestion costs average commuter $1,057 a year

Using more sophisticated methods of measuring traffic flow than previous studies, a report on congestion in major metro areas ranks Denver's traffic woes among the top sixteen in the country -- but much worse in terms of the actual time and money wasted by motorists jammed up on the roads.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute's latest "Urban Mobility Report," Denver drivers spent an annual average of 47 hours in congestion-related delays, costing $1,057 in lost time and wasted fuel costs.

That's second only to Baltimore in cities of comparable population. But it's also worse than several larger cities, including Miami, Atlanta and -- yes -- New York City. In fact, it makes Denver's traffic delays the ninth worst in the country, slightly behind such notorious bottlenecks as Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth and the San Francisco area.

The TTI's reports on mobility measure congestion in various ways. The 2010 report incorporates, for the first time, actual traffic speed data compiled by a private-sector company, INRIX, that provides travel-time information to various clients. TTI ranks cities' traffic performance by means of what it calls a travel time index, which compares peak-period congestion crawls to travel time during free-flow conditions. For example, a travel time index value of 1.30 indicates that a trip that would take twenty minutes at free-flow times will actually take 26 minutes during rush hour, leading to additional fuel costs and lost productivity.

The average travel time index for cities of Denver's size is 1.17. But the Denver figure comes in at 1.22. Colorado Springs and Boulder fare better compared to other cities in their respective categories, with wasted hours per year per commuter at 31 and fifteen, respectively.

Across the 101 urban areas studied, congestion costs have an annual economic impact of a staggering $115 billion, the report estimates. That includes 4.8 billion hours of delays in traffic and 3.9 billion gallons of excess fuel consumed.

To read the report and see possible solutions, go here. For details on Denver's efforts to get people out of their cars, see our 2009 feature "Crush Hour."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "A Multi Modal Solution to I-70 Congestion."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast