Oklahoma Metros Compare Favorably In Traffic Congestion

Tuesday, September 18th 2007, 7:16 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Drivers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City waste about 20 hours each year stuck in traffic on their way to and from work, but congestion in the two cities is lower than in similar-sized cities across the nation, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

Oklahoma City ranked 56th overall and Tulsa was 59th in the number of hours drivers were delayed annually in 2005 in 85 cities included in the survey, according to the Texas Traffic Institute's 2007 urban mobility report.

Drivers in Oklahoma City wasted 21 hours annually stuck in traffic and Tulsans spent about 19 hours, while the national average was about 38 hours, the report noted.

The Los Angeles metro area had the worst congestion, delaying drivers an average of 72 hours a year. It was followed by Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington and Dallas. The least congested metro areas were Spokane, Wash., and Brownsville, Texas, where drivers were delayed an average of eight hours a year.

While Oklahomans can take some solace in the fact that its two major cities trail the national average, the increasing problem of traffic congestion is worrisome, said Chuck Mai, a spokesman for AAA Oklahoma.

``It's like you're looking at a basket of rotten peaches and trying to figure out which one is least rotten _ they're all bad,'' Mai said. ``If you're on a highway designed for 60 miles per hour and you're going 30 mph, that's bad. It's bad for the air we breathe, it's bad for fuel consumption and it's bad for the amount of time that's wasted.''

David Schrank, a co-author of the study, said Oklahoma City and Tulsa experience traffic problems that are about average for cities their size. Unlike most of the cities in the study, where congestion worsened from the previous year, Tulsa's numbers remained the same and Oklahoma City saw slight improvement from the previous year.

``But keep in mind that these are just snapshots _ if you're looking at the last five or 10 years, the numbers are still up,'' Schrank said.

He said improvements to roads with high congestion problems, the installation of cameras at high-traffic areas and smart signs that warn motorists of potential traffic problems all likely kept the numbers for Oklahoma City and Tulsa from climbing too high.

``Those are the kinds of things that are starting to make a difference in these numbers,'' Schrank said. ``The question will be if they continue to make that difference or if continuing demands will once again cause those numbers to climb.''

Jay Adams, the acting planning and research division manager for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said the agency is continuing to address its capacity problems by targeting high-congestion areas in its eight-year work plan.

In Oklahoma City, the department is focusing on three major problem areas: the southern corridor of Interstate 35 between Norman and Oklahoma City, the I-40 crosstown expressway, and I-235 between 36th and I-44.

In Tulsa, a high priority area is along I-44 from Riverside to Yale and along U.S. 169 from Highway 51 north to I-244.

``All of those areas are on our high-priority list,'' Adams said. ``Those are areas where we have capacity issues.''

Despite the improvements to roads and new technology, Mai said motorists in Oklahoma and the rest of the nation can expect the problem to get worse before it gets better.

``By and large, the number of miles of roadway has stayed stagnant, but we're pouring more and more cars and more and more drivers on those roadways,'' Mai said. ``This is the bed we've made and now we're lying in it.

``Even with $3-a-gallon gas, mass transit is largely ignored. I'd love to see it happen, but do I expect it to happen? Probably not.''