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Workers lose days driving to jobs

WASHINGTON - Drivers commuting to and from San Francisco and Oakland waste 60 hours a year -- the equivalent of 1½ workweeks -- sitting in traffic on the way to and from their jobs, according to a national study released Tuesday.

That's four hours more than a decade earlier, when Bay Area commuters blew 56 hours a year, according to the Texas Traffic Institute's urban mobility report.

Only drivers in Los Angeles spent more time stuck on the road -- 72 hours a year, up from 71 a decade earlier.

Nationwide, drivers languished in traffic delays for 4.2 billion hours in 2005, up from 4 billion the year before, according to the report.

That's about 38 hours per driver.

"Things are bad and they're getting worse," said Alan Pisarski, a transportation expert and the author of "Commuting in America."

"We've used up the capacity that had been bequeathed to us by a previous generation, and we haven't replaced it," Pisarski said.

The study sums it up this way: "Too many people, too many trips over too short of a time pe-riod on a system that is too small."

The study estimates that drivers wasted 2.9 billion gallons of fuel while sitting in traffic. Combined with the lost time, traffic delays cost the nation $78.2 billion, the study estimates.

High gasoline prices appear to have cut into optional driving but not into commuting to work, said David Schrank, an associate research scientist at the Texas Transportation Institute, part of Texas A&M University.

"We're really not seeing drops in the peak travel times," said Schrank, co-author of the study.

About three-quarters of commuters drive alone to work, according to census data.

The study provides detailed information on traffic congestion in the nation's 85 largest metropolitan areas.

The least congested metro areas were Spokane, Wash., and Brownsville, Texas, where drivers were delayed an average of eight hours a year.

The study offers a menu of options for addressing congestion, including adding roads or lanes where needed, improving public transportation, and changing driving patterns through flexible work schedules, telecommuting and car pooling.

"The problem has grown too rapidly and is too complex for only one technology or service to be 'the solution' in most regions," the report says.

Atlanta was tied with San Francisco and Washington, D.C., for the second-worst congestion in the country, though there has been some improvement in Atlanta, according to the study. In 2005, drivers there wasted an average of 60 hours a year in traffic delays -- down from 70 hours a decade earlier.

A 2005 task force appointed by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue called for focusing resources on mitigating traffic congestion in the Atlanta area.

But the region's population is growing so fast, planners are having a tough time dealing with the increase in vehicles, said Jane Hayse, chief of transportation planning for the Atlanta Regional Commission.

"With the pace of growth that we have here, it's pretty difficult to reduce congestion," Hayse said. "Trying to keep it at today's level is really our goal."

The Atlanta metropolitan area added 890,000 people from 2000 to 2006, more than any other metro area in the country, according to census estimates. There were 5.1 million people in the Atlanta area in 2006.

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