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Region’s traffic congestion is ‘symptom’ of a larger problem

Traffic and gridlocked roads are common headaches in the Puget Sound. (Matt Pitman/KIRO Radio)

While you’re stuck in traffic this week, just remember that it’s not just a lack of asphalt causing you to bake in your car for hours on end.

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Traffic congestion is a “symptom” of a bigger problem, according to Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation Roger Millar. That problem is housing affordability and alternative forms of transportation, he reportedly said during a speech at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2018 Joint Policy Committee meeting in Spokane.

As we’ve heard before, it would cost an estimated $115 billion to build out I-5 enough to get traffic moving at a consistent 60 mph. That would mean increasing the gas tax by $2.20 to $2.50. And if that did happen, local surface streets wouldn’t be able to handle the additional flow of traffic.

During his speech to transportation officials, Millar noted that the bulk of transportation options only benefit those who can afford to live in our increasingly costly cities. The rest are forced to drive, sometimes in vehicles that can’t make the trip. The state “has 50 incidents a day on Interstate 5 where cars and trucks are breaking down,” Millar is quoted as saying.

The state is doing what it can with the infrastructure it already has, according to Millar. That includes adding express toll lanes, which help “better manage” the state’s roadways and improving safety. Getting creative by doing such things as adding shoulder driving in congested areas can help, too. Millar says people who decide to telecommute and travel during off-peak hours can have a positive impact.

But it’s not enough. The Seattle Times found that — in the fourth quarter of 2017 — more Redfin users were considering leaving Seattle. The bulk of them were looking for homes in Snohomish and Pierce counties.

In its most recent Corridor Capacity Report, the state found that drivers heading from Everett to Seattle should give themselves about 1.5 hours to guarantee they will get to their destination on time. The average commute was approximately 58 minutes in 2016.

Ultimately, Millar says states will have to take “risks” to tackle the challenges we are facing now and will face in the future. And no, that does not include making I-5 18 lanes wide.

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