AUSTIN, Texas — New data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) shows that Austin has one of the most congested highways across the Lone Star State and this ranking comes as no surprise to some Austinites.
Scott Vercher moved to Austin from Houston about three years ago.
"You would think it would be a lot better here because of the smaller number of people that live in Austin compared to Houston," said Vercher. "But I've got to tell you, it is amazing the number of cars and the number of people that drive through I-35 every day. It is horrific."
According to the study, Interstate 35 is ranked third in highways with gridlock conditions. Rounding out the top five were the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in Dallas, and Houston's Eastex, West Loop and Southwest Freeways. TTI also looked at truck freight congestion and noted that I-35 in Austin was ranked No. 1 in that category.
TTI looked at 1,860 roadways and measured each street and highway by "determining delay per mile of travel."
“Traffic congestion isn’t just a big-city problem, and that problem is almost sure to get worse as our population surges by almost 20 million in the next 25 years,” said David Schrank, TTI’s lead researcher on the annual study. “With that kind of growth, Texas needs to use every possible means to keep people and goods moving. We need to add capacity, operate the system efficiently, and give people options for how to travel.”
As a way to help with congested highways and roadways, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) created the Texas Clear Lanes initiative in 2015. It helps provide money to the State Highway Fund. Since the launch, 13 projects have been completed, 27 are under construction, and another 58 projects are planned.
“Texas Clear Lanes is paying off in a big way, as we estimate $4 in benefits for every $1 spent on road expansion projects,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “That helps us achieve our mission connecting Texans with their state. TxDOT is all about making personal travel safer and smoother, along with efficiently moving freight to support greater supply chain efficiency and economic growth.”
According to TTI, traffic delays cost more than $3.8 billion in 2021. Since 2019, truck congestion costs have remained unchanged at $620 million.
"Austin area ... 2021 had a little over $1 billion price tag in just these road sections that we're looking at here," said Vercher, referring to the section between U.S. Highway 290 in North Austin to Ben White Boulevard. "So significant price tag, even as we're saying congestion is not back yet to pre-pandemic levels."
Vercher said this study uses data from 2021.
"This is the year coming out of COVID," he added. "We had a lot of state employees in Austin not working in the office for much of that year. UT was at home for the first half of that year. So there were a lot of trips that didn't get made."
Despite many people still working from home, this put Austin's I-35 in the top three most congested roads. Vercher said when the new report is released next year, he expects traffic levels to be worse.