A new study confirms what frustrated Seattle-area commuters already know: Traffic congestion in the Emerald City is terrible.

The average driver in Seattle spent more time sitting in traffic in 2017 — the most recent year for which data is available — than their counterparts in almost any other city, according to the 2019 Urban Mobility Report by Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute. Seattle ranked seventh on this metric among large urban areas, behind Los Angeles; San Francisco; Washington D.C.; New York City; San Jose, California; and Boston.

Some numbers Seattle commuters can stew on while staring at a sea of brake lights:

  • 78: The average number of hours an automobile commuter in Seattle spent in traffic delays in 2017.
  • 167,384,000: The total number of hours of delay for the year.
  • $3.1 billion: The estimated annual cost of this congestion.
  • $1,408: The estimated annual cost of congestion per commuter.

As the region has grown, so has traffic congestion. In 1982, Seattle auto commuters were delayed by 32 hours, according to the university’s data. That number crept up every year, plateaued at 62 hours between 2005 and 2010, then started climbing again.

But take heart, Seattle: It could be worse. The city and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have taken some steps that have kept Seattle from moving up in the rankings, said Bill Eisele, senior research engineer at the Transportation Institute and the study’s co-author.

“Seattle is known for the incident response programs: the work as it relates to active traffic management, speed, or use of tolls,” Eisele said.


The ever-expanding time commuters are sitting in their cars has a cost, both in delay time and wasted fuel.

“Those minutes don’t sound like much, but they add up quickly over a year,” David Schrank, a senior research scientist at the Transportation Institute, said in the report. “Eventually, we’re talking billions of wasted hours, and the cost of delay at that scale is just enormous.”

The report also breaks down when congestion happens throughout the week. If you don’t want to sit in traffic, stay off the road between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. That’s when congestion is at its worst, especially on Fridays at 4 p.m. That hour on that day accounts for 2.4% of Seattle’s delay, the most of any hour of the week.

The most congested time during the morning commute is the 7 a.m. hour Monday through Wednesday.

The weekends are not immune from clogged highways and streets. Things also slow down on the roads between noon and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Employers can play a role in improving the region’s congestion, Eisele said.

“One solution relates to providing choices,” Eisele said. “Making sure that there’s flexibility with employers and employees to have mobility options, flex time — you’ve got a number of different choices.”

Seattle Times Traffic Lab engagement editor Michelle Baruchman contributed to this report.