OMAHA — Congestion on roads in the Omaha metro area is getting worse, signaling a strengthening economy but raising the specter of more pollution, a company tracking global traffic data said.
The TomTom Traffic Index concluded that trips in the Omaha-Council Bluffs, Iowa, area took 14% longer in 2018 than they would without congestion, up from 13% a year earlier.
The index, produced by TomTom International, a manufacturer of navigation and location technology, also indicated that congestion spiked by 33% during the evening rush hour, stretching a 20-minute commute to nearly 27 minutes.
Over a month, that extra travel time could equate hours drivers spend away from their families, said Jim McGee, a former transportation official with the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
"I hate to break the chamber of commerce's heart, but it's really not a 20-minute city anymore," McGee said, referring to the Omaha Greater Chamber's claim that the city's average commute is 20.2 minutes.
The company tracked 310 million local travel miles to create its global report, which places Omaha's worst traffic congestion in line with the average congestion in such places as Chicago (28%), Seattle (31%) and San Francisco (34%).
TomTom's vice president of traffic information, Ralf-Peter Schaefer, said Omaha's uptick in traffic is a sign of a strong economy, although there's nothing good about frustrated drivers in vehicles with idling engines.
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"But the flip side is, drivers wasting time sitting in traffic, not to mention the huge environmental impact," Schaefer added.
Officials with the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency and the state's Department of Transportation have started to work on a long-range plan to guide the Omaha metro area's transportation future.
They visited Salt Lake City in 2016 to draw inspiration from that city's transit system, which includes light rail, street cars and bus corridors, with space for bicyclists and pedestrians, said Greg Youell, the executive director of MAPA.
"They've done some impressive work out there," Youell said.
In late 2017, an interim report estimated the metro area would need $7.4 billion in improvements long-term and, counting inflation, $4 billion of that was unfunded.
Tim Weander, the Omaha area's district engineer for the Department of Transportation, said plans include considering expanding Interstate 80 through Omaha to six lanes.