Originally created 02/28/04

Drivers define traffic



When it comes to road congestion, it seems perception is everything.

What might be considered a highway bottleneck in Augusta could just as easily be an uneventful commute for motorists in Atlanta.

"Congestion depends on the person that is impacted by it," said David Griffith, of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Augusta area planners say there are some local points of congestion concern, including Washington Road, Interstate 20 near Bobby Jones Expressway and Gordon Highway at Deans Bridge Road. But compared with major cities, no Augusta streets are listed in the latest nationwide study by the American Highway Users Alliance, which focuses on highway bottlenecks.

The same can't be said for Atlanta. Georgia's largest metropolis had eight highways listed in the study. Nationwide, the number of highway bottlenecks has increased from 167 in 1999 to 233 this year.

Atlanta's worst spot, and the sixth-worst in the nation, according to the study, is at the junction of Interstates 75 and 85 just north of downtown. The AHUA estimates motorists experience a combined 21 million hours of delay annually there.

Still, transportation officials say, congestion in Augusta is weighed on a different scale.

"I don't think we would compare the traffic conditions in Augusta to Atlanta," Mr. Griffith said. "We look at the impact to the Augusta area."

Congestion in Augusta terms is studied annually and pegged on the percentage below the speed limit a car travels during peak travel.

"The congestion is still evident from year to year on some of the major arterial highways," said Paul DeCamp, the planning director for the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission.

Augusta streets considered congested include 13th and 15th streets, where officials have estimated a motorist travels 30 percent below the speed limit during peak travel times.

Statewide, the recent AHUA study found 43 percent of Georgia's major highways, or 1,013 miles, are congested. That's 1 percent higher than the national average.

In South Carolina, 42 percent, or 395 miles, of major highways are considered congested, the AHUA states. Then, there's Florida, which has 66 percent of its major highways congested, or 2,433 miles, according to the study.

Jennifer Lucas, a psychology professor at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta who recently conducted a study on long commute times, agreed congestion is a subjective term and could just as easily be used for Augusta.

She said one of the determiners in how someone judges road congestion is how long they have lived in an area. She said the longer a motorist has been in Augusta and witnessed traffic increases, the more susceptible they are to being frustrated by so-called road congestion.

"It's people's perceptions and not the reality of it that's so important," Dr. Lucas said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.