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Fairfield County Traffic Ranks Among Worst in U.S.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – If it feels like you’re spending a lot more time stuck in traffic lately – and not just during the morning and evening rush hours but mid-day and overnight, too – it’s not your imagination.

The New York/Connecticut/New Jersey tristate area ranks as the fifth most traffic congested metropolis in the country, according to a new national report.

Despite the economic downturn and high unemployment rate, plenty of people are still commuting to and from work in Fairfield County. But when the economy recovers, traffic congestion will become far worse, according to the report.

According to the 2011 Urban Mobility Report from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, drivers in the New York tristate metropolitan area were delayed by traffic an average of 54 hours in 2010 – up 12 hours from 2009.

That’s far more than the delay endured by the average commuter across the country, which was 34 hours in 2009 and up from just 14 hours in 1982, according to the report.

The annual cost of congestion is now $100 billion nationwide — nearly $750 for every commuter in the United States.

“Rush hour is six hours of not rushing anywhere,” said Tim Lomax, co-author of report, which rates only Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston as areas with worse traffic congestion than here.

But, Lomax said, traffic congestion “is becoming a bigger problem outside of ‘rush hour,’ with about 40 percent of the delay occurring in mid-day and overnight hours, creating an increasingly serious problem for businesses that rely on efficient production and deliveries.”

Denise Arnold of Norwalk, who works overnight as a private nurse in New Rochelle, said her commute has become “such a nightmare” that’s she’s looking for something closer to home.

“I get stuck in traffic when I leave (in early evening), and when I come home before the morning rush,” said Arnold. “One of the things I liked about working overnight when I started 12 years ago was very little traffic. Not anymore. Now it’s always backed up, no matter which route I use.”

Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said car crashes, flat tires and other roadway incidents account for delays along major arteries such as Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway.

“Driver error incidents increase traffic congestion by up to 30 [percent] to 50 percent,” said Nursick. “People are also spending more time on the roads, despite the increase in gas prices. Motorists are multitasking more and are out on the roads additional hours.”

Nursick said the Connecticut Highway Assistance Motorists Patrol, a camera-monitoring program implemented in 1996, uses computers to “virtually” patrol the state’s major roadways. Nursick said between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. “motorists stuck on major roadways can be easily spotted, and help is then sent out.”

But there is little help on the way for traffic congestion, according to the report’s authors.

“When economic growth returns, the average commuter is estimated to see an additional three hours of delay by 2015 and seven hours by 2020,” Lomax said.

By 2015, the cost of gridlock will rise from $101 billion to $133 billion – more than $900 for every commuter, and the amount of wasted fuel will jump from 1.9 billion gallons to 2.5 billion gallons – enough, the report states “to fill more than 275,000 gasoline tanker trucks.”

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