WSDOT: Traffic on state roadways at 10-year low

May 29, 2013

It may not feel like it when you’re in your car, but figures from the state Department of Transportation show there is less traffic on Washington’s roads than at any time in the last 10 years.

Between 1980 and 2002, the miles driven on the state’s roads more than doubled, from 15 billion per year to about 32 billion. Then suddenly, it leveled off and stayed that way for the past decade.

Credit WSDOT

What’s behind this striking shift? Clark Williams-Derry, with the sustainability think-tank Sightline, says for one thing, high fuel prices have changed many people’s attitudes about driving.

“It used to be a symbol of freedom. But now, when gas prices are high, you know, it can feel like you’re shackled to your car,” he said.

Williams-Derry says aging baby boomers, stagnating incomes, and growing awareness about climate change are other likely contributors. New mobile technologies that make it easier and more convenient to use transit may play a part, as well.

The new reality, says Williams-Derry, means transportation planners should rethink the assumption that building more highways is the best use of scarce transportation dollars.

“Highway megaprojects are bankrupting the rest of the transportation system. We’re spending far more money to build new highways than we are in fixing the existing highways,” he said.

Williams-Derry says since people are using their cars less, money spent on transit, bike, and pedestrian facilities could be a better investment in the long run.