The ink is still drying on a new report that describes traffic congestion in the Atlanta region.  On paper, it appears that Atlanta’s reputation as a bumper-to-bumper bastion of gridlock is improving.  But a closer look reveals a tale of two regions:

It was the best of times …
The Texas Transportation Institute’s latest edition of the Urban Mobility Study for Atlanta indicates traffic sucks less in the region.  Atlanta improved its position in the overall rankings, moving from 11th worst traffic in the U.S. to 13th worst.  There is more open space on the roads and strategies to manage traffic are working.  But don’t throw the confetti just yet.

It was the worst of times …
Double-digit unemployment factors into the current conditions.  But the new data also show what the region is losing because of systemic traffic interference:
−    At the nexus of time and money, each peak commuter in the region loses $924 annually in opportunity costs because they can’t get out of traffic.  Hello, monthly mortgage payment.   

−    Further adding to the white-knuckled, vein-popping frustration, each peak commuter squanders 43 hours over the course of a year sitting in congestion delays above and beyond normal commute times.  That’s more time than many employees receive for vacation in a given year.

−    Employers in the region swallow a cumulative $2.5 billion in lost productivity because employees are stuck in traffic.  This becomes an integral part of conversations in corner offices around the region when business community leaders discuss the Transportation Investment Act.

−    Excess fuel consumption also hits commuters in the pocketbook.  The region burns up 53 million gallons of gas annually while peak commuters simmer in traffic, resulting in discretionary dollars diverted away from local retailers.

At the end of the day, much of what brings this tale of two regions together is the sense of urgency around stabilizing the economy.  It can be expected that as times of economic prosperity eventually find their way back to Atlanta, so, too, will more commuters.  How the region changes - in terms of embracing commute options and expanding the transportation network to bust out of traffic congestion - determines whether we can hold our position and not backslide into traffic oblivion.