Feb 18, 2022 - News

Austin drivers spent nearly two days in traffic last year

Data: TomTom Traffic Index 2021; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios
Data: TomTom Traffic Index 2021; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Austin drivers lost nearly two entire days to traffic last year, but that's still better than pre-pandemic gridlock.

What's happening: We're spending less time stuck in the car, especially during traditional commute times, as many people continue to work from home.

Why it matters: Solving Austin traffic congestion is now a deeply contested political matter, as businesses and homeowners in the shadow of I-35 joust with the state transportation department over highway expansion plans.

By the numbers: Overall congestion levels in North America decreased 14% in 2021 compared with 2019. At traditional peak hours, the drop in traffic was 31%.

  • In Austin, the total time spent in traffic last year was 46 hours, up 2% from 2020, but down 7% from 2019.
  • Elsewhere in Texas, drivers in Houston spent an average of 46 hours in their cars; in Dallas, 39; and in San Antonio and El Paso, 36.

Between the lines: The change in traffic patterns could be one of the lasting trends of the pandemic, Axios transportation correspondent Joann Muller writes, but a lot will depend on whether remote work sticks.

Flashback: We reported that trips to downtown Austin were well off pre-pandemic levels last fall.

Zoom out: While 46 hours of local car time might seem like a lot, it's a far cry from congestion hot spots like New York City (80 hours) and Los Angeles (75 hours).

Our thought bubble: Is it really "lost" time if you get to sing along to your favorite artist, hear the latest mindless thing a radio DJ says about some football recruit, or listen, gripped, to a new podcast? (No, yes, no.)

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