Chattanooga traffic gridlock sets new records

Vehicles travel in rush-hour traffic on Interstate 24 on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The average driver in the U.S. loses 42 hours a year in traffic, according to a transportation report released Wednesday, and population growth over the next 30 years is projected to cause more traffic congestion.

Jackie McBride says Interstate 24 in Chattanooga used to clog up with traffic just on Friday afternoons, but now the congestion seems to swell at rush hour each workday.

"It used to be Friday. Now it's every day," the Rossville man said, citing bottlenecks around the ridge cut at Missionary Ridge.

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GRIDLOCKED CITIES

Metro areas and hours of delay per commuter in 20141. Washington, D.C.: 822. Los Angeles: 803. San Francisco: 784. New York: 745. San Jose: 676. Boston: 647. Seattle: 638. Chicago: 618. Houston: 6110. Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.: 5911. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington: 5312. Atlanta: 5229. Nashville-Davidson: 4535. Memphis: 4372. Knoxville: 3577. Birmingham: 34Source: Texas A&M Transportation Institute Urban Mobility Scorecard

CHATTANOOGA CONGESTION

For 2014:— Hours of delay per auto: 28 per commuter— Congestion cost: $730 per auto commuter— Excess fuel gallons consumed: 6,138Source: Texas A&M Transportation Institute Urban Mobility Scorecard

A new study shows traffic congestion across America is growing as the country regains nearly all of the 9 million jobs it lost in the recession. Travel delays are causing drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and keeping motorists in their cars for nearly 7 billion extra hours - 42 hours per rush-hour commuter, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

While the nation's large metros such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta are among the most congested, the Chattanooga area ranks much worse than most midsize and small cities in some key categories.

The city rated high among the second group in terms of annual hours of delay per commuter at 28, according to the study that looked at 2014 federal transportation figures and at data from the firm Inrix.

Also, the study estimates the annual congestion cost last year in Chattanooga was $294 million, or $730 per commuter.

Bruce Trantham, co-owner of Tranco Logistics in Chattanooga, said traffic congestion in the city is "an ever-increasing problem, no doubt."

He said he has talked with people looking for sites to park their truck trailers or warehouse goods because they don't want to be on the west side of the ridge cut if they travel I-75.

"They don't want to get tied up in morning and afternoon traffic," Trantham said.

Lots of truck traffic already is identified as a problem by Chattanooga area planning effort Thrive 2055. Another study recently showed that 80 percent of freight traveling through Chattanooga is going somewhere else - tops in any metro area nationwide.

That study identified problem locations including the I-24/I-75 interchange, the I-24/I-59 junction and the ridge cut.

Bridgett Massengill, project manager for the 16-county, 40-year Thrive 2055 initiative, said transportation and logistics is a priority.

Massengill said the initiative aims to improve truck movement throughout the region.

"When we talk about ways to deal with congestion and traffic issues, we're fully aware from the get-go," she said.

She said the recent announcement of an inland port in Murray County, Ga., is an example of finding solutions to such issues, and it shows how Thrive can help facilitate solutions by bringing people together.

The port is projected to eliminate 50,000 long-haul truck trips annually from Georgia's highways when it opens in 2018, according to officials.

According to the Texas A&M study, the average travel delay per commuter nationwide is more than twice that in 1982. For cities of less than 500,000 people, including Chattanooga, the problem is four times worse than in 1982, the study said.

Tim Lomex, a report co-author, said the growing traffic problem is too big for state and local agencies to handle alone.

He said businesses can give employees flexibility in where, when and how they work. Also, workers can adjust commuting patterns, and there ought to be better long-term land-use planning, Lomex said.

"This problem calls for a classic 'all-hands-on-deck' approach," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.