The study by Texas A&M University named metro Atlanta the seventh most-congested city in the U.S.
Nearly 500 cities were included in the 2012 Urban Mobility Report from the university’s Texas Transportation Institute, in which Washington ranked No. 1 and Atlanta tied with Chicago in terms of congestion. Washington also was No. 1 in trip times, weighing in at 53 minutes.
Metro Atlanta ranked fourth for costs ramped up by trucks delivering shipments late, seventh for individual commuter delays and expenses, and eighth in wasted time.
Brian Carr, spokesman for the Clean Air Campaign, said Friday more than 2 million Atlanta commuters lose 51 hours a year to traffic jams.
“Any of us would be much happier doing anything else. That’s an entire weekend,” he said. “That’s an entire work week that goes up in smoke because of traffic delays.”
Carr said local drivers are clawing their way out of gridlock through sharing the ride, even if they’re not telecommuting, like he does, or using Cobb Community Transit buses.
“More than 10 percent of Cobb County commuters carpool. That’s above average,” he said. “That’s a very accessible way to get into an alternative arrangement.”
Driving is still going to be a necessity, he said, because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 42 percent of Cobb County commuters work outside the county.
“Most of Atlanta’s commuters live in one county and work in another,” said Carr, a DeKalb County resident whose office is in Fulton County. “We got some long-haul commuters from Cobb County.”
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, nearly 180,000 county residents work in Cobb, and 145,000 commute to Fulton, DeKalb and other counties.
The Texas study ranked Atlanta in the midrange for reliability, which is how much time commuters can expect to get from Point A to Point B on Interstate 75, Ga. 400 or other highways.
Atlanta drivers need to triple or quadruple the time for a late-night ride to calculate their rush-hour commute.
Again, Washington was No. 1, with its commuters needing to multiply by five or six to allow for crashes, stalls, bad weather, road construction or other events.
Carr said for Atlanta drivers, allowing 60 to 80 minutes for a 20-minute trip is “predictably unreliable.”
“People are adept at knowing how much they need to plan,” he said. “There’s a notion of being resigned to the fact that a 20-minute trip time will take an hour. We’ve become used to padding our trip times, but it shouldn’t have to be that way.”
Ramp meters, traffic signal coordination, HOV lanes, Georgia’s 511 traffic info hotline and other strategies are doing some good, the study said.
Without those measures, delays would be increased by another three hours per commuter, and the cost of delays for Atlanta drivers would accelerate from $1,120 per driver to $1,196 — already well above the national average of $818.
“This region has a unique story to tell,” Carr said. “We have a pretty big toolbox to work with for strategies to reduce traffic. You look at ramp meters and things like 511 and mapping where the hot spots are, and HERO trucks that clear stalls, you have a robust set of tools.”
Another tool in the box, he said, is the Georgia Commute Options program developed by the campaign and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“Our partners at the Georgia DOT said the region can’t build our way out of congestion. There are more reasons people should consider alternatives to driving alone. There is a network to find carpool partners, incentives and workplace programs,” Carr said.
Skeptics may argue the campaign wants to ban automobiles, but he said that is not true.
“The actions we’re after do not require people to abandon their cars for good. Our program is just about using them less,” Carr said.
East Cobb resident Larry Savage said there are better ways to cut traffic.
“What we need is an unrelenting focus on eliminating traffic congestion and separate our thinking from all these sideshows,” he said. “We’re diverting more money than people realize into bike paths and streetscaping projects. They have no real benefit in getting people to work.”
Savage said he wants to get involved with the Traffic Incident Management Enhancement task force, or TIME.
“Most people will tell you if nothing if goes wrong, they’ll get to work on time. The problem is, something goes wrong too often. Every time it does, we start from scratch as to what to do,” he said. “We need to study and eliminate accidents by working on the causes, learn how to respond more quickly and get people on their way.”