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Study: D.C. drivers spending more time on the road

Wednesday - 6/4/2014, 5:29am  ET

D.C. area drivers spend much more time on the road during peak hours, according to a new study. (WTOP)

WASHINGTON -- D.C. area rush hours aren't that bad, at least compared with the traffic at other times of the day or week.

The 2014 TomTom Traffic Index finds that D.C. area drivers spend 24 percent more time on the road during peak hours than they would if they made the same trip during the times with the least traffic.

That ranks D.C. eighth in the nation behind Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle, San Jose, New York and Miami.

But WTOP Director of Traffic Operations Jim Battagliese cautions against putting too much stock in the findings, which are based on data collected anonymously from TomTom GPS units.

"These lists come out all the time, and I always kind of ‘pooh-pooh' them, because they seem like they're coming out by people that don't have a whole lot of traffic knowledge; they're just kind of crunching numbers," he says.

"My top three, from doing traffic all across the country, are L.A., Chicago, and D.C., and any time I see a list where Chicago is not even in the top 10, I scratch my head and say 'What were you thinking?' It just does not make sense," he adds.

While the report finds that many common "shortcuts" taken across the country to avoid sitting in traffic actually add time to a trip, Battagliese says drivers around here always have to be ready to call an audible.

"Especially in this area, because things are so crazy sometimes, you have to have alternate routes to get you around your normal tie-ups and even when they get worse," he says. "You should always have at least two or three alternative routes that you should use in a pinch, when things aren't going your way traffic-wise; I know I do."

The study finds that commuters who drive to work in 186 metropolitan areas around the world lose an average of eight workdays per year stuck in traffic.

"Everybody's got to look at their own commute differently, but if you can just juggle your schedule a little bit one way or the other, you can find your commute gets much better," Battagliese says. "If you left work a half-hour later, you could actually get home at the same time because you're avoiding part of the rush hour."

"It's really getting to know your commute, getting to know what's the worst time for you to take that commute, and, if you alter it a little bit, it's really trial and error to see what works best," he adds.

The study finds that the worst congestion of the week in U.S. cities usually happens on Thursday night.

The index ranks Kansas City and Indianapolis as the big American cities with the smallest increase in travel times during rush hours.

The map of the D.C. area shown in past TomTom studies has not included several stretches of often congested roadways, including I-95 south of Quantico, I-66 west of Fairfax, U.S. 50 east of Bowie, U.S. 301 south of Prince George's County, or I-270 north of Clarksburg.

"Anybody who takes I-95 between Richmond and D.C. on the weekends knows this is all part of the D.C. area, and it's a terrible trip to take. I have a sister in North Carolina -- I don't visit her anymore because 95 is so bad on the weekends I just don't take it," Battagliese says.

He has covered traffic in cities across the U.S.

"L.A., Chicago and D.C. are the worst by far around the country -- I would throw San Francisco in there, Atlanta, New York City obviously, although New York does have a great mass transit system that really helps out," he says of his own top six.

For years, other reports have found that commuters in our area lose dozens of hours and thousands of dollars sitting in traffic each year.

"I wouldn't mind being stuck in traffic in Honolulu," Battagliese jokes.

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