Bay Area traffic surge: It's not your imagination

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If you’ve noticed it’s more crowded on Bay Area roads, it’s not your imagination. Traffic has been getting steadily worse for the last five years, according to data from the Metropolitan Transit Commission. But experts say there is a silver lining to more congestion on the roads: it’s a sign of a robust Bay Area economy.

KTVU traffic guru Sal Castaneda hit the road at 5:30am on a recent weekday to time the morning commute and test some of the Bay Area’s most notorious routes for himself. He hit bumper to bumper traffic on the I-80 near the MacArthur Maze. Then it took him another 24 minutes just to get to the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza. Once through the toll Sal spent another 27 minutes waiting for metering lights just to get on the bridge itself.

And most drivers in the Bay Area don’t start their commutes at 5:30am. Sal says you can expect even longer wait times just one hour later during a typical weekday morning rush. But in the last few years, the usual commute hours are starting earlier and lasting longer.

John Goodwin, with the Metropolitan Transit Commission, says the traffic spike in the Bay Area can be measured over the last five years by how many cars are crossing local bridges.

"It's a good indicator because we can get real precise data at very specific times," said Goodwin.

MTC Bridge crossing statistics as of April 2016

MTC keeps track of traffic volume and also watches uses of transit systems like BART and Caltrain. According to MTC, Bay Area traffic started to steeply climb in 2011 on the heels of the recession, and has slowed, but not stopped, in the last year.

The agency predicts more than 4,000,000 vehicles will cross the Bay Bridge this year. But the numbers also show that more commuters have actually opted for alternative routes over the past few years. The San Mateo Bridge has seen a 26 percent increase in traffic since 2010, and the Richmond Bridge has seen a nearly 20 percent jump.  

Goodwin says there are more cars on the road in every part of the Bay Area, but there’s a good reason behind the traffic headaches.

"It's a real simple explanation: it's jobs. It's the economy,” said Goodwin, “and that's why you look at 2010 - sort of the bottom of the recession - through the subsequent years we've just got more, just more work going on. And you see this not only on the highways you see it on BART, you see it on Caltrain.”