Commute times on Bay Area roadways increase 

Bay Area commuters might be driven over the edge when they learn how much expensive gas they are burning while sitting in traffic.

Commute times in 2007 on the region’s freeways were the worst since 2000, according to a report by Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and are up 12 percent from 2006.

Drivers sat in 161,700 hours of traffic per weekday on Bay Area freeways in 2007 as compared with 143,900 hours in 2006, according to the report.

But the report also found that traffic delays on some of the Bay Area’s most backed-up freeways, such as the Bay Bridge approaches from San Francisco and the East Bay, decreased last year.

Motorists on San Francisco freeways may also be delighted that the total extra time spent in city traffic dropped 3 percent, from 10,900 extra hours in 2006 to 10,600 in 2007. Officials from the transit agencies attributed the decrease in part to recent renovations to both Bay Bridge approaches.

In San Mateo County, the number of extra hours stuck in traffic spiked. After staying relatively stagnant since 2003, delays jumped a whopping 36 percent in the county in 2007 (10,500 delay hours) compared with 2006 (7,700 delay hours).

Caltrans officials pinned the surge in Bay Area commute times to the region’s growing economy. The MTC and Caltrans cited 53,000 new Bay Area jobs in 2007, marking three straight years of employment growth.

Bay Area residents cited commute times second only to the economy as their biggest worry in 2008, said John Grubb, spokesman for the Bay Area Council.

"I guess if you’re worried about your job, you’re thankful to have a commute," Grubb said.

Commute times jumped in 2007 despite gas prices soaring from $2.66 to $3.39 per gallon during the year. Still, transportation officials think fuel prices this year, which have topped $4 locally, will help unclog roadways. Rising public transit and car-pool use could also help lower commute times, MTC spokesman John Goodwin said.

San Francisco has three of the worst 14 stretches of road in the region, including the Bay Bridge approach between northbound U.S. Highway 101 from Alemany Boulevard to Interstate Highway 80 eastbound, which is the fifth-busiest in the region.

San Mateo County has just four of the Bay Area’s 50 busiest stretches of roadway, all portions of U.S. Highway 101. The worst part of that freeway is between Whipple Avenue and Hillsdale Boulevard, which ranks No. 19 in the region.

Even with near-record numbers of drivers clogging Bay Area freeways, commuters have begun abandoning some notable stretches of roadway.

Traffic declined by 3 percent on the afternoon driveon the Bay Bridge approach in San Francisco — the portion from the northbound U.S. Highway 101-Alemany Boulevard interchange to the Bay Bridge. The number of extra hours drivers had to spend on that stretch of roadway because of traffic each weekday fell from 4,880 in 2006 to 4,760 in 2007.

Congestion on the westbound Bay Bridge approach fell 9 percent in 2007 (11,100 delay hours) from 2006 (12,230 delay hours). Caltrans Director Will Kempton said the new FasTrak configuration at the bridge’s toll plaza led to the congestion drop.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

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