Seattle traffic congestion hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels, study says

Jan 13, 2023, 9:25 AM | Updated: 11:40 am
A new report says the Seattle area is snarled by the nation's fourth worst traffic. (AP image)
(AP image)

While your morning commute on Interstate 5 might feel painful, it still is not nearly as bad as before the pandemic, according to a new study from Kirkland-based software company INRIX.

According to the INRIX study, traffic congestion in Seattle in 2022 is still 38% lower than traffic levels from 2019.

West Seattle Bridge traffic volume not back to pre-closure levels

The report is an analysis of traffic congestion in 295 urban areas in the United States and concludes that Seattle saw the lowest levels of traffic congestion in 2021 during the height of the pandemic. Most cities have since bounced back to normal levels, but Seattle hasn’t.

The report notes smaller urban areas have largely returned to pre-pandemic congestion levels while most of the largest and most congested places have lagged behind.

“The typical driver in the country lost 51 hours in congestion, up 15 hours from 2021’s 36 hours lost, costing the average driver $869 in lost time. That doesn’t include fuel cost increases, which INRIX analyzed would cost the average American driver $134 more in 2022 than in 2021,” according to the study. “It would cost the Los Angeles commuter nearly $315 more in 2022 than in 2021, and the typical New York driver an additional $213 in 2022.”

For Seattleites, the number of lost dollars is $770.

However, back in September 2022, Seattle driver Sandra Martinez said she noticed her commute time had increased.

“I disagree with the study. Traffic has been back to pre-pandemic levels for sure. Or at least mostly there. My commute times near an hour.” Martinez said. Her commute starts in the morning at I-5 and Northgate down to West Seattle. “Now that the bridge is open, it’s helpful, but my commute time is no longer shorter than it used to be [like during the pandemic.]”

A possible explanation for this is that it was relatively recently when traffic patterns started to return to normal, according to INRIX traffic analyst Bob Pishue.

“So in the Seattle area, delays were relatively moderate until about September, and then we kind of saw an uptick right after Labor Day, especially morning commute delays. So that has been a big driver kind of through the last quarter of the year,” Pishue said. “If those trends continue, we’ll likely see more traffic congestion this year.”

The report also says that Tacoma ranks 17th for the worst corridor in the United States and that the average Tacoma driver lost 58 minutes a year sitting in traffic.

Among the 25 most congested areas, only four exceeded their pre-pandemic traffic congestion in 2022: Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, and Chicago. San Francisco’s levels were equal to 2019.

Follow Micki Gamez on Twitter or email her here.

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Seattle traffic congestion hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels, study says