Not just major crashes: Day-to-day bottleneck times jumping

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Exploring The Pacific Northwest

Interstate 5 in and around Seattle is home to some of the worst traffic in the country. From Getty Images.

SEATTLE – The crash on I-405 Wednesday. The tanker crash late last month on I-5. The fish truck crash a couple of years ago.

It’s no secret one major crash can cripple the Seattle area commute for hours. But what about days when things are running smoothly, when there’s nothing major blocking area travel routes?

Well, those days are bad, too. And they’ve gotten much worse in just the past year.

A study released in January by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) shows the Seattle-area has five of the worst 21 bottlenecks for major thoroughfares of truck-borne freight.

In total, nine Western Washington locations appear on ATRI’s list of 100 worst bottlenecks. Several of the bottlenecks jumped more than 10 spots on the list, the study shows. And drive times at all but one of the bottlenecks have gotten worse.

Below are the area’s worst bottlenecks, along with where they rank among national congestion and each spots’ change in year-over-year rank:

#7. Auburn, Wa: SR 18 at SR 167, up 10 spots from last year.

#10. Seattle, Wa: I-5 at I-90, up 4 spots

#16. Tacoma, Wa: I-5 at I-705/SR 16, up 16 spots

#18. Federal Way, Wa: SR 18 at I-5, up 15 spots

#21. Seattle, WA: I-90 at I-405, up 1 spot

Only one Western Washington congestion location listed – I-5 at US 2 in Everett – improved, moving four spots to nation’s 95th worst bottleneck.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, bottlenecks make up 40 percent of overall traffic congestion in the country. A bottleneck is easily defined as a disruption of traffic as a result of a condition in the roadway, such as merging, traffic lights or sharp curves.

The narrative of longer drives on even the best of days falls in line with the latest annual traffic reports from the Washington State Department of Transportation, which show increased daily traffic volumes. As the state’s population continues to grow, traffic may only get worse.

“System-wide, from Marysville to Tacoma, we’re seeing more volume,” WSDOT spokesperson Travis Phelps said. “The commutes are starting earlier and lasting longer.”

Phelps said more drivers are on the roads because of the population growth in the area, and because people are driving more to-and-from work. As affordable homes become harder to find, Phelps suggested, more people are commuting in from outlying areas.

“It’s a combination of not just residents moving to the area, it’s where do they live, where are they going,” Phelps said.