As the Bay Area economy sizzles, our commutes are turning into a slow, grinding torture not felt since the final years of the Bill Clinton presidency.

Traffic congestion increased 25 percent in the San Jose area from April 2012 to April of this year, and 22 percent in the San Francisco region over the same period, according to a new study by the Kirkland, Wash.-based company INRIX.

The numbers are staggering. San Jose's jump in congestion is the sixth biggest change nationwide. The state's third biggest city now ranks as the seventh most congested city in America and the 28th most congested in the world.

San Francisco remains the third most congested city in the U.S. and the 10th most congested city in the world.

"Nothing can stop San Jose," said INRIX Traffic Analyst Jamie Holter in a news release. "It's not a surprise that San Francisco and San Jose are big movers. When people get jobs they start driving again. These cities are on economic overdrive and so are their freeways."

The worst section of road in the South Bay is southbound Highway 101 from Fair Oaks Avenue to De La Cruz Boulevard. In free-flowing traffic, it takes four minutes to cover the 4.1-mile stretch. During a typical commute, it takes 12 minutes with an average speed of 21 mph. On the worst day, it takes 19 minutes with an average speed of 13 mph.

Name a highway and the complaints pour in as the bad days far outnumber the good, said motorist Doug Hagan of Palo Alto. "It is unbearable between San Antonio Road and Embarcadero," he said.


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Highway 4 is a crawl from Bailey Road to Somersville Road, I-80 from 101 to Treasure Island, and I-680 almost from Walnut Creek to San Jose. A sea of red brake lights has almost the entire nine-county Bay Area aglow.

"I'm not surprised," said KQED traffic reporter Joe McConnell. "From my observation, traffic has been getting worse for a lot more than just a year, in lock step with the improvement in the economy.

Traffic delays are also increasing nationwide -- jumping by more than 9 percent during the study period. That is the second largest year-over-year increase ever recorded but just a fraction of what motorists here have felt.

Brussels, Belgium, has the worst congestion in the world, according to the report, while Los Angeles has the worst in the U.S.

INRIX says it collects travel times and backup information from hundreds of public and private sources, including a network of about 100 million vehicles and mobile devices (cellphones and navigation systems).

And, INRIX predicts, congestion will continue to increase as unemployment falls.

"When people get jobs they start driving again," Holter said, noting that San Francisco and San Jose "are on economic overdrive and so are their freeways."

The Bay Area has added more than 600 miles of highways over the past two decades, but future expansion will be limited to more carpool lanes and converting existing carpool lanes into toll lanes that solo drivers can use for a fee. The BART expansion into the South Bay should be completed in a few years, and more companies are paying for private buses to ferry workers at no charge to job sites across the region.

"I used to get to work in the morning and get home at night stressed out from traffic," said David Sanders, who rides a Genentech bus from Castro Valley to South San Francisco. "Now I make it a point to not even look at the road."

Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.

TRAFFIC troubles
SAN JOSE
Comparing April 2012 to April of this year, San Jose's congestion has increased 25 percent.
  • San Jose is the seventh most congested city in America and the 28th most congested in the world.
  • The average San Jose driver wasted 31 hours in traffic in 2012, nearly a full week of vacation.
  • The most congested hour of the week: Thursday at 6 p.m.
  • The most congested morning commute: Tuesday at 9 a.m.
  • The worst section of road in San Jose is southbound Highway 101 from N. Fair Oaks Avenue in Sunnyvale to De La Cruz Boulevard in San Jose.

    SAN FRANCISCO
  • San Francisco remains the third most congested city in the U.S. and the 10th most congested in the world. 
  • San Francisco traffic increased 22 percent year-over-year.
  • The average San Francisco driver wasted 49 hours in traffic in 2012; that's down 7 percent from 2011.
  • The most congested hour of the week: Thursday at 6 p.m., when it takes an extra 23 minutes to get home.
  • The most congested morning commute: Tuesday at 9 a.m., with 12 minutes wasted in congestion.
  • San Francisco has 10 stretches of road on the list of most congested corridors in the U.S.