Chicago drivers spent the equivalent of more than four days stuck in commute traffic this year — more time than drivers in any other major U.S. city, according to a new study.
When the size of the city is factored in, Chicago’s traffic puts it second in the nation for the impact the congestion has on the region. In the U.S., only the New York urban area’s congestion has a higher impact, according to the study from mobility analytics firm Inrix.
Traffic remained well below pre-pandemic levels, but the congestion still came with a cost: $1,622 in time wasted for the average Chicago driver, and $5.8 billion for the city, Inrix’s calculations found.
Driving some of Chicago’s congestion ranking is likely a return of the morning commute period, said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst for Inrix. Though it remains below 2019 levels, the morning commute has come back stronger in Chicago than it has in other cities, he said. That could be one factor behind an uptick in Chicago’s congestion ranking from third in 2020, to second in 2021.
That is likely to come as no surprise for drivers on I-90 heading north to the Jane Byrne Interchange around 8 a.m., which was ranked among the worst corridors for traffic in the Chicago area. Also bad during morning rush hour was Chicago’s Irving Park Road eastbound from I-90 to Ashland Avenue.
But the top two spots for delays in the area were I-55 between the exits for I-90 and Cicero Avenue around 4 p.m., and I-290 east to Harlem Avenue in the afternoon, the study found. Both of those stretches are candidates for roadwork, including widening, funded by the recent federal infrastructure program.
A proposed project would expand and rebuild I-290, including adding lanes to a stretch near Hillside where the highway reduces from four to three. Additional work could cover the 13-mile stretch from Hillside nearly to I-94, and would cost an estimated $3 billion.
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman has said the highway is long overdue to be rebuilt and modernized into a multimodal transportation system with a path for people to walk and bike, potentially, “all the way down to the lake.”
The state also plans to add two lanes to I-55 from I-294 to downtown Chicago, among other work on the expressway. Widening could be part of a solution to alleviating traffic, but it has to be strategic, Pishue said. Targeting chokepoints and the areas creating the biggest strain can be more effective than adding dozens of miles of highway lanes, he said.
“Anyone that thinks just widening a road by a lane is going to solve all of our traffic problems, that’s not realistic,” he said. “There’s not one kind of silver bullet.”
Chicago ranked sixth globally for its congestion. London had the highest congestion impact in 2021, Inrix found. Improving congestion comes down to reducing demand on the road system during peak times, Pishue said. Government officials who manage the road network, employers and individual drivers can play a role.
“Obviously, people need to take trips, especially those who don’t have a choice or have to work multiple jobs and need to make those trips. Those should be accommodated,” he said. “But try to get some flexibility from drivers and employers and have government accommodate that and all work together” [Chicago Tribune].
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
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