Good Question: Why Is Traffic More Congested Than Ever?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

— According to a new report by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, more of us in the Twin Cities metro are stuck in traffic than ever before. Approximately 21.5 percent of all metro highway miles are classified as congested.

So, with high unemployment, why are roads so congested now?

“In the last few years saw a decline in congestion,” said Brian Kary, MnDOT’s freeway operations director. “We had a downturn in the economy which affects congestion, also had some major projects. This year, we didn’t have that,” he explained.

Every October MnDOT uses the sensors in the highways to track congestion. When traffic dips below 45 miles per hour it counts as congested. In 2009, 150 miles of metro freeway was congested. In 2010, that jumped to 170 miles — an increase of 13 percent.

“It kinda surprised us too to see it go up that much,” said Kary.

This report measures the number of miles that are congested, not the amount of time people spend stuck in traffic. So, the growth, according to Kary, is happening in outlying suburban areas.

“We have some outer areas that were approaching that capacity value and finally tipped the scale so to speak,” he said.

For example, for the first time, Interstate 35E north of I-694 by Hugo is classified as congested. So is I-94 east of the 694/494 beltway in Woodbury.

“That really showed an increase in congestion that we haven’t seen before,” he said.

The afternoon rush (2 p.m. to 7 p.m.) is more severe than the morning (5 a.m. to 10 a.m.) because of the discretionary trips in the afternoon. The morning is typically just people commuting to work.

“In the past we really saw a decline of congestion in pm peak, those are commuters and discretionary trips, and it seems like those might be coming back and we’re seeing a lot of congestion in the PM peak,” said Kary.

Congestion levels in 2010 were higher than the previous peak levels in October of 2001 when the ramp meters were turned off, and in October of 2007, where the I-35W bridge was closed because of the bridge collapse and reconstruction project.

Building out of the congestion problem is not possible with projected funding levels, according to Kary.

“At best we can try to slow down the rate of congestion to reach a plateau,” he said, arguing that increased use of mass transit and telecommuting is the only way to really reduce the levels of congestion miles.

Check out MnDOT’s full report.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Mike

    My main gripe is how drivers enter onto the freeway system distracted or not aware that it is their responsibility to enter with the flow of traffic. Everyday I watch knuckleheads getting on to the freeway at 35 miles an hour causing immediate restriction in the flow of traffic. Then they jump right over to the left lane (passing lane), moving slower then the other two lanses, so they can use their electronic devices in in what appears to be the “open” lane with the least amount of traffic. Mean while, they are passed on their right by drivers who understand how the system actually works!

    • mark w.

      i completely agree with you on the merging mike. its been a while since i looked at traffic laws but i am pretty sure that the law says, when merging onto a freeway you have to adjust your speed to the flowing traffic or wait for an opportune moment to merge safely.

      that’s not something i see, usually people merging onto the freeway so so without indicator light or looking around their shoulder. they expect the car behind them to slow down to 40 miles to let them in.

  • Tc Radiodj

    Agree with Mike, but also going to take it a bit further is the city bus’s are slow, and cut you right off. Sure they have the right of way only because they bought their way into that law. The other is old people that drive in the fast lane or people that must do 55 in a 55mph zone also in the fast/passing lane. If you are going to drive like that great! But get the hell out of the fast lane! The patrol needs to get on these people that violate the law better! Remember people there is a law against driving to slow in that lane! Move it. or lose it!

    • Wesly

      The patrol ticketing people for going 55 in a 55 mph zone. There is also a law for speeding. Get real dude. To save 5 minutes on a 30 mile commute on the metro freeways you would have to drive 80. Is there anything you do that important that you need to risk the lives of others for?

  • Kwai Chang Caine

    One word: OVER-POPULATION!

  • Rich

    I think part of the problem is the inability of heavy trucks etc. to get up to speed etc. during entering or lane changes. I would suggest during the rush hours all vehicles over a certain GVW, or hauling any type of trailer only use the right lanes on the major freeways. This would allow the other lanes to move with less chance of slowdown plus reduce lane changing., Just a thought.

    • Richard in Minneapolis

      Two problems: One, left exits. Two, it pretty much walls off the on and off ramps.

  • M

    It’s everyone driving whatever speed they want. If everyone drove the same speed there would be much less congestion. How about everyone actually driving the speed limit. I must have missed when the speed limit changed to a suggestion.

    • Bruce

      I can hardly wait until we go truly green and open up the freeways to bicycles and we will have arrived at nirvanah for the helmeted, stretch panted, non-signaling, unstoppable peddlers. Oh joy.

      • bicycle pimpdog

        Bruce, i wear a multicolored spandex jumpsuit and aerodynamic helmit…when I’m driving my car.

  • MariaatWork

    Make the left lane passing only (as in other states). MN drivers are notoriously left lane cloggers.

    • mark w.

      agreed. classic example. was on 394 yesterday heading downtown. was in the left lane (non MN-Pass lane) and had to drive 50 MPH behind an impalah. after eventually passing the car from the right, looked in, and noticed a teenager texting on his phone with both hand and his wrists controlling the steering wheel!

  • JamieinMN

    I say, leave the right lane OPEN so oncoming cars can get in…then move over in time to get off on your exit.



    • JamieinMN

      I would never pay a penny to be able to drive in a “special” lane. That’s just a waste of money. Leave earlier for work,or move closer…

      • KEASHA

        well its a little hard to just up and move to the city or closer when i have a house, family, kids…you cant just get up and move. and as far as leaving early, i work at 830, its either leaving at 630 in the morning to be 1 hour early for work, or waiting until after 830. its a no win situation. hence the reason i pay. its been a blessing on the days you dont have slow pokes tagging along, or people that arent paying to be driving in that lane.

  • Take your lgiht rail and stick it.

    Wow, I can’t believe no one jumped on the elephant in the room. MNDots solution is Mass Transit and working from home?

    Take the money that is being collected from gas taxes and build the roads to accommodate the traffic instead of purposely creating bottlenecks to encourage people to take the bus.

    • Sick of paying for your car.

      If you cancelled all transit you’d end up with over 200,000 more people on the road every day, and the savings to the state would barely cover the potholes that exist now, not new lanes or expanded superfreeways-the capital and operating costs of new transit lines are a drop in the bucket compared to new highways. Try that out for your bottleneck.

      • Matt

        1st. You don’t pay for my car in any way, gas taxes and license fees pay for the roads my car drives on, so I wouldn’t worry about that.

        2nd, lets take a look at the actual numbers. Right now mass transit represents about 1/3rd or $300M of the $900M of the total transportation spending for the state of Minnesota.

        HOWEVER only about 2% of the population uses mass transit and about 10% in the metro area. now you show me the math that says we should spend 33% of the money on 10% of the public. Also that doesn’t count the money that is collected from riders, that’s just the money getting shifted out of roads into mass transit.

        In other words, if we cut down on our “INVESTMENT” of mass transit and used it only where it makes sense we could significantly improve the roads which would reduce congestion, save money and give everyone back some more time to spend with their family.

        Here’s a beautiful article from the bias and tax payer funded MPR that highlights the ridiculous ME ME ME nature of mass transit in this state.

  • James

    Mass transit, city buses, trains, and express lanes are hack jobs and do nothing to ease congestion. Let me say that again, they do NOTHING to easy congestion. The people who ride the bus are the same people who would otherwise carpool, so you’re increasing the number of single drivers on the roads anyways. Adding another lane of traffic on a busy road or highway would move far many more cars per day than any number of buses or trains would. 35,000 cars per day moved by adding an additional lane on a highway is more than moving 1500 people per day on a slightly used bus line. Never mind that the ONLY use of the bus system in minneapolis happens to be either in or out of the city centers of downtown. What bus traffic do you know of goes between Plymouth and Maple Grove on 494? How about between golden valley and Brooklyn Park on 169? What about between rogers and maple grove on 494? My point is obvious. These green idiots at MnDOT need their head examined. Buses are NOT the solution. MORE LANES are the solution. simple as that. MORE LANES.

    • Matt


      I’m not sure who the idiots designing these roads are, but common sense is not in their lexicon. I live in the NE metro where we have 694 go from 3 lanes merging with 2 lanes from highway 10 and cutting it all down to 2 lanes.

      What do you think will happen when 5 lanes converge into 2?

      Also 694 meets with 35E we have 4 lanes instantly cut to 2?

      Stop wasting our gas tax on bus programs that don’t help congestion and start using it to fix the roads. This should be universally supported as there are studies that show traffic congestion will cut fuel efficacy by around 16%. If we had roads designed to accommodate traffic flow we could cut gas consumption by 16%…

      Don’t get me started on the ridiculous left turn arrows where there isn’t a car in sight.

    • Jomes.

      If I CAPITALIZE it then I’m right. Moron.

      • Matt

        He is right

    • Richard in Minneapolis

      More lanes. Also known as ‘The Los Angeles Solution’. No thanks.

    • Todd

      True about not easing congestion but I would take the bus (I used to when it was convenient and cost effective at my old house), I live in Maplewood and I have to walk a mile for one bus that takes about an hour to go 8 miles and if I walk 2 miles I can take the express which cost $2.75 each way. I would take the bus if it didn’t cost me $2 more a day to get to work. What they need is to make it lucritive to ride the bus, i.e. if I take the bus I save money, but they don’t. I also believe that the gas tax, which should be used for nothing but mndot/roadway expenses should be increased. Those that drive a stupid 60 miles each way to work, usually in their Suburbans or Tahos. should pay for the extra lanes, etc. That is what is increasing traffic. I usually take side streets to work and would never move an hour a way from my job but pay a lot in taxes so the people in WI and up north can commute. Gas tax is the most sensible way to pay. Those that use it, pay for it. If you are using 2-3 gallons of gas a day to get to work and back, youi live too far from you job.

  • Courteney

    Waaaaay to many people in the world. Simple fix – one child limit!

  • Ginger Shepla

    Bottom line, we need more roads. We have more congestion and that means more roads, it does not take a genius to figure this one out. We pay PLENTY in taxes for this already, so build the roads and stop using our tax dollars to fund mass transit and bike paths. We the taxpayers have to get to and from work each day. If we can’t we won’t be paying taxes.

  • Annette

    Los Angeles tried building their way out of congestion with more roads. Don’t think it worked. My uncle says it still takes him two hours to get to work. You build more roads and more vehicles drive them and guess what, it gets congested all over again!

    • Todd

      Take a look at 94 West in the am and 94 East in the pm. You are correct. They keep adding lanes and it is still backed up.

  • I hate driving

    Whomever designed these roads are morons. Fixing 1-2 miles of a congested area, only to push it 1-2 miles up the road. Idiots ( Look at 94W and 101 )

  • brandon

    its because there are so many stupid drivers out there. learn how to use the roads people. left lane for drivers that can do the speed limit or at least 5 over, right lane for people that are affraid to drive or have all the time in the world. idiots

  • Jean-Paul Dangerbunny Beaulieu

    You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic. Ride a bike.

  • Yvonne

    I have lived in Minnesota for 14 years, therefore commuting for 14 years and Minnesota has by far the worse drivers I have seen. Merging – no clue – speed limits again no clue. It is unbelievable. I have lived in Detroit and Chicago and I would rather than drive in Chicago – at least those people know how to drive. I think the police should ticket individuals who do not know how to merge or to travel a posted speed limit when conditions permit than someone driving 10 miles over the speed limit.

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