This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Traffic in Utah isn't all that bad - at least when you look at the nation's big cities.
But compared with states similar in size, Utahns spend more of their time sitting in traffic. And the congestion looks to get worse, according to the annual Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute.
Since 1982, annual traffic delay in Utah has increased by 29 hours per individual driver. That statistic places Utah sixth out of 30 medium-size states surveyed, where the average is 25 hours delay per year.
Salt Lake City ranked as the 34th-most congested city.
"We can see pretty clearly what 20 years of almost continuous economic growth can do to us," said survey author Tim Lomax in a statement.
"If we're lucky enough to sustain this growth, and the [transportation] funding levels and options do not increase from current trends, we shouldn't be surprised if we see even more congestion."
In 54 urban areas, traffic congestion increased 30 percent faster than roads could be built to relieve it.
Taylorsville resident Jackie Stone says Utahns shouldn't complain.
"Our roads are better than most, although we are always having them under construction," said Stone, who is retired. "I've just learned to take different directions. And you just have to learn to have patience."
But that's difficult for those who face an ever-increasing daily commute.
Since 1982, traffic delay in America's urban cities has increased dramatically, according to the survey. Commuters in 85 of the largest U.S. cities lost nearly 3.5 billion hours on the road in 2002 - a number that accounts for nearly 46 hours of delay each year per commuter.
In Dallas, where the largest jump in congestion was recorded, that amounts to nearly 61 hours of traffic delay. In Los Angeles, that adds up to 93 hours of traffic delay, while in Washington, D.C., that number accounts for 67 hours in traffic.
In Salt Lake City, the average commuter lost 32 hours in traffic delays.
For Utah's transportation planners, those results aren't surprising.
"Utah's a very urban area, one of the most urban areas in the country," said Erika Shubin, spokeswoman for the Utah Transit Authority. "It's got some strong geographical boundaries and there is limited room for roads and development."
Tom Hudachko, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, agrees.
"We'll do what we can, obviously, but where do you draw the line?" he asked. "We'll never be able to build our way out of [congestion]. There's got to be some changes in behavior."
Using public transportation is one way to save time and cut down on congestion, according to the survey.
Without public transportation, nearly 1.1 billion hours of delay would have been added to the 3.5 billion hours lost in traffic in 2002.
That "represents a 32 percent increase in delay and an additional congestion cost of $20 billion," according to the survey.
In 2002, construction to mitigate traffic delay cost nearly $63 billion.
"We're facing an increasingly urgent situation," said Lomax. "To make real progress, it's critical that we pursue all transportation solutions."
But that's costly, and commuters are increasingly frustrated with road construction.
"It seems like every time I travel, I hit traffic from construction," said West Jordan resident Marian Hansen, who lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, during the winter months.
"We come back and visit for about three months for the summer in West Jordan, and we're continually in construction. It's just the 'same old, same old,' everywhere we go, always construction."
That's typical for the summer, however, and the worst delays - Beck Street in North Salt Lake and I-15 toward the Point of the Mountain - should be mitigated by October, according to Hudachko.
"Construction is one of those double-edged swords," he said. "If you want more capacity out of the roadway, you've got to take the discomfort of the construction to get the benefits."
Draper resident Bryon Lund agrees. "I think we've made a lot of efforts to improve, and I think things are actually going to be better" in the future, he said. "I tend to think some people expect perfection and we're not going to get it."
To view the report, visit http://mobility.tamu.edu/ums.
What congestion causes
Lost time: 3.5 billion hours lost on the road each year.
Urban delays: 46 hours of annual delay per average urban traveler.
Salt Lake delays: 32 hours of annual delay for commuters here.
Fuel lost: 5.6 billion gallons of fuel used by engines "idling in traffic jams."
Congestion costs: $63 billion for congestion mitigation.