New study confirms Miami traffic is really jammed up

Morning traffic congestion heading eastbound on the 836 bottles up near Northwest 57th Ave on Tuesday August 25, 2015.
Morning traffic congestion heading eastbound on the 836 bottles up near Northwest 57th Ave on Tuesday August 25, 2015. EL NUEVO HERALD

A report to be released Wednesday confirms one of the community’s worst fears: Traffic is getting worse, not just in South Florida, but across the country.

The 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute — the national authority on transportation issues — ranks the Miami-Dade/Broward/Palm Beach region in 12th place of 15 urban areas with the worst traffic congestion in the nation. The 2012 report listed Miami in 11th place.

While the slight improvement may seem worthy of celebration, to the people who assembled the report the shift is really just a reflection that traffic congestion in South Florida’s metropolitan areas remains about the same as it was in the 2011-2012 time period.

Overall, congestion is worse in all urban areas because traffic is increasing as the economy rebounds.

“The recession tried to do something about the traffic,” said David Schrank, research scientist at Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “And it helped some urban areas for a while, with a few less cars on the road. But the demand is back, jobs are coming back and the goods and services and the commuters are out there moving on the roads now.”

Miami’s drop in one rank does not mean traffic here is improving.

“Moving up or down 10 ranks might be worthy of investigation, but there’s enough wobble in these numbers that it could easily be up or down a couple of ranks without anybody really noticing,” Schrank said.

Over the years, traffic congestion in the region has fluctuated. In 2000, the Miami/South Florida region placed 12th and in 2008 it was 15th.

The periodic Urban Mobility report is considered the nation’s most accurate measure of traffic conditions in large metropolitan areas. Report authors tracked 101 urban areas, but generally showcase 15 because they are somewhat similar to each other in traffic conditions and sprawl. The Miami area is one of them.

The urban areas included in the report with rankings worse than South Florida were — in that order — Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, San Jose, Boston and Seattle. Chicago and Houston were tied for eighth place. Riverside-San Bernardino ranked 10th place, Dallas-Fort Worth 11th and Miami tied for 12th place with several urban areas including Atlanta, Detroit and Austin.

In the report, an urban area includes suburbs or municipalities around the urban core of a major city. For example, data for Miami/South Florida include congestion across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The 2015 report includes several measures by which to judge performance of the South Florida transport system.

“I had Miami down as 50 hours of wasted time per commuter back in 2011, but I have you at 52 hours wasted per commuter in 2014,” said Schrank. “This is a little worse, but your rank is basically the same. That shows to me that on most of those pretty large areas like Miami are getting worse sort of at the same rate or altogether.”

The price tag for those 52 hours of wasted commuter time is $1,169, said Schrank.

“This is the amount that a commuter would lose per year because they had to drive in congestion,” Schrank said.

Another measure of how congestion makes driving worse is the so-called freeway planning time index. This refers to the time that a driver needs to get from one place to another to keep an appointment on time or to catch a plane.

That index value for the Miami area is 2.85.

“The higher that number, the less reliable your freeways are, meaning you get on them you have no idea how long it’s going to take you to get some place” Schrank said. “The lower that number, the more reliable, the more like that same average trip you make all the time.”

The number for Miami, noted Schrank, means commuters must leave early for appointments because of congestion.

“If you had a 20-minute trip you could make at night in 20 minutes, in order to make sure you got there — maybe you’re trying to go to the airport where you can’t afford to be late — you’d have to allow yourself between 50 and 60 minutes to make sure you got there.”

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy

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