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Study: Portland traffic among most congested in nation

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Recent studies confirm Portland's traffic is bad and getting worse.Portland is tied with Chicago and Washington, D.C., for the eighth most congested metropolitan region in the country, according to a new study by TomTom, a navigation system manufacturer that also analyzes traffic conditions.

The TomTom Traffic Index found that all three cities had an overall congestion level of 26 percent in 2015, meaning the extra travel time on both highways and non-highways anytime of the day compared to what should be free-flowing conditions. The 2015 TomTom Index was released Tuesday.

Nick Cohn, TomTom's senior traffic expert, was surprised Portland rated so high, considering the city's reputation for alternative transportation, like MAX trains and bicycling. But after analyzing traffic patterns in the Portland area, Cohn says much of the congestion is caused by people commuting to employers outside Portland, like high-tech companies in Hillsboro and Washington County, including Intel, the state's largest private employer.

"MAX is set up to serve Portland, not the employment centers in the surrounding communities, that are also too far away to bike to," says Cohn.

According to Cohn, so-called reverse commute patterns are difficult for governments to change because they are caused by people making personal choices about where they want to live and work. For example, Intel employees may prefer to live in the Pearl District in Northwest Portland, despite the commute.

You can read the 2015 TomTom Index here.

Cohn's comments are consistent with a survey released on March 16 that ranked several Portland highway corridors among the most congested in the country:

• Sunset Highway from Camelot Court to Canyon Road/Exit 73

• Highway 217 from the 72nd Avenue/Exit to the Hall Boulevard/Exit.

• Interstate 5 from Highway 43/Macadam Avenue/Exit 299 to North Tomahawk Island Drive/Exit 308

• Interstate 84 from Highway 99E/Pacific Highway/Grand Avenue to Interstate 205/Exit 8

• I-205 from Washington Street/Strark Street/Exit 20 to Highway 30 BUS/Columbia Boulevard/Exit 23

• I-5 from Haines Street/Exit 293 to Elingson Road/Exit 286.

According to the survey, “Urbanization continues to drive increased congestion in many major cities worldwide. Strong economies, population growth, higher employment rates and declining gas prices have resulted in more drivers on the road — and more time wasted in traffic.”

That conclusion is consistent with a local report released by the Value of Jobs Coalition that concluded increasing traffic congestion could cost the Oregon economy almost $1 billion annually by 2040, with most of the increasing expenses occurring in the Portland area.