Bumper to bumper: Chicago area ranked worst in the nation for traffic congestion

How bad is traffic in the Chicago area? How about worst in the nation, according to a report that finds in 2022 the average local driver lost 155 hours a year to congestion.

That's an increase from 104 hours in 2021, when more Chicagoans and suburbanites were working from home amid COVID-19 surges, data analyst INRIX's latest Global Traffic Scorecard shows.

The 2022 tally is also higher than pre-pandemic 2019, when 145 hours were lost to traffic congestion.

Worldwide, the Chicago region is second only to London, where Brits experienced 156 hours of unneeded travel delays, INRIX said.

"It confirms a lot of what we had feared - that traffic congestion in our region was bound to get worse," Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Executive Erin Aleman said.

"I don't think we had realized it was as bad as the INRIX report puts forth, but people across our region have been talking to us and asking why congestion is bad for quite some time, so the fact it increased is not surprising."

DePaul University transportation Professor Joseph Schwieterman called it "an unflattering distinction for our region," one that doesn't help efforts to recruit major employers looking to relocate.

INRIX estimated last year that "congestion cost the average U.S. driver $869 in time lost" - but $2,618 for Chicago-area residents.

"The limitations of our expressway system are largely to blame, with chronic delays on the Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways part of the reason we rate so poorly," Schwieterman said.

"Thankfully, the completion of the Jane Byrne Interchange ... should help improve our ranking during the next study."

CMAP just released its Mobility Recovery study, which looks at how to move people and goods around the region in a post-pandemic world with funding challenges.

Tying into increased gridlock, CMAP researchers saw "truck traffic increase, especially the small-unit delivery trucks," Aleman said, citing UPS and FedEx. "Those trucks are up about 20% over 2019 in terms of their vehicle miles traveled. We expected people to get more goods delivered in the long term, but the pandemic accelerated that."

Large-truck traffic is also up by about 10%, she said. "We're seeing big shifts in how people travel and get their goods, and the numbers are reflective of that."

CMAP offers solutions in its analysis, some of which "revolve around thinking about how bus travel and bus priority lane investments could be really beneficial to our region."

Aleman notes "about 60% of jobs done in the region can't be done remotely. There's still lots of people that need to get to manufacturing, health care and transportation logistics jobs," and that requires better transit connections.

On the positive side, Chicago is only ninth in the nation for most gridlocked corridor - a stretch of I-55 between Midway International Airport and the Dan Ryan Expressway. The worst is southbound I-95 through Stamford, Connecticut.

"It is perplexing why our region fares worse that New York City," Schwieterman said. "I suspect the peculiarities of the methodology that INRIX uses, which focuses on travel to employment centers, is a factor."

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  Traffic builds along I-90 near South Barrington. A report finds the region has the highest hours lost to congestion in the nation. Paul Valade/, 2022
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