When it comes to traffic, the nation’s capital is not a world power.

At least, that’s the way the D.C. region looks in a global study of traffic congestion by the INRIX traffic information service.

Look at the top five cities for three categories on INRIX’s 2016 traffic scorecard.

The rankings were achieved by estimating the total number of hours that the average commuter spends in congestion in each city. (INRIX chart)
The rankings were achieved by estimating the total number of hours that the average commuter spends in congestion in each city. (INRIX chart)

This is pathetic. Are we past the era when the D.C. region was at the top, or at least near the top, of national surveys of traffic misery? Our ranking in this study: No. 6 among North American cities. If I used a bigger chart, I could squeeze us in, but really. Once you get beyond the gold, silver and bronze medals, does it really matter?

In years gone by, the academics and the businesses doing traffic studies usually were able to help us out. They came up with enough different indexes to land us in the top tier of some category of travel misery.

So I looked for something more specific in the INRIX congestion study. This one sounded promising: “Top 10 worst U.S. corridors.”

We’ve got terrible corridors. Wouldn’t you at least expect to find Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia among those 10 spots? It’s a notorious bottleneck among local travelers, even with the addition of the 95 Express Lanes. How about the west side of the Capital Beltway between Tysons Corner and Bethesda? If you live in Rockville and work in Tysons, you had better set your work day so that you’re homeward bound by 2 p.m., or you’re going to be having a late supper.

But no. Here are the top 10 worst corridors in the nation.


New York was home to four of the top 10 most congested corridors in the United States. (INRIX chart)

Turns out we’ve got nothing on the Cross Bronx Expressway, a 4.7-mile stretch of I-95 where the average driver wastes 86 hours per year in congestion. This rings true to me. When drivers seek help in plotting their long-distance getaway routes for vacations, a frequently asked question is: How do I get to New England without taking the George Washington Bridge to the Cross Bronx Expressway? (They are willing to do almost anything.)

Maybe geographic categories provide a little comfort for those who want their travel pain acknowledged. Yes, we’re sixth nationally, but that’s out of 240 cities measured by INRIX. We’re seventh worst out of 310 cities in North America, and we’re 15th out of 1,064 cities in 38 countries.

But consider that this is a study of traffic in 2016. What was the distinguishing element of our 2016 transportation scene? From June through December, Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance projects displaced thousands of transit commuters. But apparently it didn’t displace enough of them to push us into INRIX’s congestion highlights for the year.

Challenge the INRIX data? The company relies on travel information collected electronically from vehicles. For this study, INRIX officials said, they looked at congestion at different times of the day and across different parts of the road networks, traffic in downtowns, traffic coming in and out of cities, traffic at peak and off-peak periods and on weekends. The company bills this as the largest study of global traffic congestion.

At least the nation still holds its own on traffic congestion, even if the capital can’t measure up. INRIX officials note that U.S. cities accounted for half of the top 10 most congested cities globally, with Los Angeles at No. 1, New York at No. 3, San Francisco at No. 4, Atlanta at No. 8 and Miami at No. 10.