Congestion and System Performance
Quality of Life, Economic Gains Tied to Region’s Mobility Success
The OKI region’s quality of life and economic competitiveness are closely related to the degree the transportation system is able to provide an acceptable level of mobility.
Congestion is the level at which transportation system performance is no longer acceptable due to traffic interference. The level of acceptable system performance will vary by type of transportation facility, location within the region and time of day.
The level of acceptable system performance depends upon transportation and development goals for the region, and it reflects public perception of traffic interference. This traffic interference may be recurring or non-recurring congestion.
Non-recurring congestion occurs due to traffic incidents, adverse weather or road construction. Physical bottlenecks account for about 40 percent of all congestion, nationally. The remaining congestion is the result of traffic incidents (25 percent), poor weather (15 percent), work zones (10 percent), poor signal timing (5 percent) and special events (5 percent).
The importance of congestion is reflected in federal transportation rules requiring a Congestion Management Process (CMP) in metropolitan areas, and maintained by OKI every four years. The CMP provides for safe and effective integrated management and operation of the multimodal transportation system; and this results in performance measures and strategies that can be reflected in the metropolitan transportation plan (MTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
National Perspectives on Congestion
Congestion in the OKI region can be viewed in a national context to see how we stand when compared with other major U.S. metropolitan areas.
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute has been documenting the growth of congestion levels in the nation’s urban areas since the 1980s. Their mission has been to document mobility trends and highlight numerous issues associated with roadway congestion. In their most recent Urban Mobility Information report, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute uses findings drawn from traffic speed data collected by INRIX on urban streets and highways, along with highway performance data from the Federal Highway Administration. When using annual delay per auto commuter to determine congestion, the report reveals that, in 2017, the Cincinnati Urban Area was considered the 29th most congested urban area in the U.S.
The Texas A&M study reflects the average condition of roadways in the entire urban area, not specific facilities and locations. The OKI CMP attempts to better pinpoint congestion problems within the urban area. It also provides a level of analysis that allows for more informed decision-making in the transportation planning process.
Congestion Management Network
The focus of the Congestion Management Process is on the movement of people and goods over interstates, principal arterials and other transportation facilities. These segments serve as the backbone to the region’s transportation network, and provide connectivity among the region’s transportation facilities, intermodal facilities, and activity centers.
The OKI Congestion Management Network is composed of all facilities on the National Highway System (NHS), along with major roadways and all other routes determined to be essential to regional mobility and continuity. The NHS is a network of strategic highways, including the interstate highway system and other roadways serving major transport facilities such as airports, ports, and rail or truck terminals. In the OKI region, the network consists of more than 1,480 miles and carries 55 percent of regional traffic.
Congestion Performance Measures
Congestion performance measures are parameters that characterize conditions on the multimodal transportation system in the region. Performance measures can identify the intensity and extent of congestion, measure accessibility and reliability of the system, evaluate freight movement, and address mobility via transit, bicycle and pedestrians.
This information can be used to track changes in mobility over time, identify subareas or corridors with mobility problems, and identify causes of potential hindrances to mobility. It also provides information to decision-makers and the public as part of the transportation project selection process. As transportation improvements and strategies are implemented over time, these measures aid in evaluating the effectiveness of mobility enhancement strategies for the movement of people and goods. Appropriate performance measure are clearly understood, not too difficult or costly to collect, and sensitive to the impact of congestion mitigation strategies.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act requires that state departments of transportation (DOT) and MPO’s, including OKI, incorporate five new performance measures into the CMP. These five performance measures are listed below:
Federal Performance Measures
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Level of Travel Time Reliability – LOTTR
Level of Truck Travel Time Reliability – LOTTTR
Peak Hour Excessive Delay Per Capita
Percent of Non-Single Occupancy Vehicle Travel
Total Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Emissions
Additional CMP Performance Measures
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Travel Time Index-TTI
Peak Period Travel Times between Major Destinations
Incident Clearance Time
Level of Travel Time Reliability
The variability or change in congestion on a day-to-day basis provides a measure of reliability. Recurring congestion is generally predictable, regularly occurring, and typically caused by excess demand on the capacity of the system. On the other hand, non-recurring congestion causes unreliable travel times and is caused by transient events, including traffic incidents, weather conditions, work zones, or special events. This non-recurring form of congestion is often the most frustrating for travelers.
The Travel Time Reliability map shows the maximum travel time reliability by direction for selected corridors during three weekday time periods (6-10 a.m., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 4-8p.m.) and one weekend time period (6 a.m.-8 p.m.). Highly reliable periods are shown in green and the least reliable periods are shaded red.
When roadway segments within each interstate corridors are weighted together to determine an overall LOTTR, each corridor is considered to be reliable during all time periods. However, data analysis indicates that in Kentucky, the roadway segment of Dixie Highway to the Ohio River within the I-71/75 northbound corridor was unreliable during the AM peak period. In Ohio, the roadway segment of the Norwood Lateral (OH-562) to Stewart Avenue within the I-71 northbound corridor, the roadway segment of Ezzard Charles Drive to Sixth Street within the I-75 southbound corridor, and the roadway segment of Mitchell Avenue to Paddock Road within the I-75 northbound corridor were considered unreliable during the PM peak period. The roadway segment of Ronald Reagan Cross Country Highway (OH-126) to Paddock Road within the Interstate 75 southbound corridor unreliable during both the AM and PM peak periods.
In 2018, 95.3 percent of person-miles traveled on the interstates and 96.8 percent of all non-interstate person miles traveled on the NHS network were considered to be reliable (LOTTR).
Level of Truck Travel Time Reliability
The map shows the maximum truck travel time reliability by direction on all interstate corridors during three weekday time periods (6-10 a.m., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 4-8 p.m.), one weekend time period (6 a.m. – 8 p.m.), and one overnight time period (8 p.m.-6 a.m.). Highly reliable periods are shown in green and the least reliable periods are shaded red.
On average, I-71/75 northbound in Kentucky is least reliable throughout the day while I-471 northbound between US-27/exit 1 and I-71 has the least reliable time period, 6-10 a.m., with a LOTTTR value of 3.25 (325 percent).
More than half (52 percent) of all roadway segments on the OKI freight network are considered to be unreliable (maximum LOTTTR is greater than 1.5) while only 63.6 percent of person miles traveled on the freight network were considered to be reliable in 2018.
Peak Hour Excessive Delay Per Capita
The extent of traffic congestion is measured by the number of transportation system users that are affected by congestion. FHWA measures this by the annual hours of peak hour excessive delay (PHED) per capita on the NHS. Hourly traffic volume, hourly delay and length of each freeway section are considered when developing PHED per capita.
I-75 northbound between Exit 6 (Mitchell Avenue) and Exit 7 (OH-562/Norwood Lateral) had the most daily peak hours of excessive delay at 4,276.
Percent of Non-SOV Travel
The measurement of non-single occupancy vehicle (SOV) travel within an urbanized area recognizes investments within the Cincinnati region that increase multimodal solutions and vehicle occupancy levels as strategies to reduce both criteria pollutant emissions and congestion. Modes of transportation recognized are carpool, vanpool, public transportation, commuter rail, walking, bicycling, and telecommuting. This measure used data from the 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
Total CMAQ Emissions
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated nine counties in the Cincinnati area as a nonattainment area for ozone under the 2015 ozone standard. Nonattainment means that the area is not meeting national ambient air quality standards. Ozone is formed through chemical reactions induced when sunlight reacts with volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
Thirteen CMAQ-funded transportation projects (PDF) within the OKI region were scheduled to be completed during FY2016-2019. These projects included traffic operations and safety improvements, roadway relocations and widenings, new turn lanes, and bus replacements. These 13 projects were estimated to reduce daily VOC and NOx emissions by 51.16 kg and 133.41 kg, respectively.
Travel Time Index
The relative severity of travel congestion is measured by the ratio of the peak travel time to the travel time at free-flow speeds. Several contiguous bottlenecks occur during the morning (6-9 a.m.) and evening (4-7 p.m.) weekday peak periods.
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Morning Bottlenecks (6-9 a.m.)
- In Kentucky, AM bottlenecks are I-471 northbound from I-275 to the Ohio River, and I-71/75 northbound from KY-236 to the Ohio River.
- In Ohio, AM bottlenecks are I-275 eastbound from Blue Rock Road to US-127 and from I-75 to Reed Hartman Highway; I-275 westbound from US-50 to I-71 and from US-52 to the Ohio River; I-71 northbound Edmondson Road to Pfeiffer Road; I-71 southbound from Western Row Road to Ridge Avenue; I-74 eastbound from Harrison Road to I-75; I-75 northbound from Western Hills Viaduct to Davis Street; and I-75 southbound from OH-129 to OH-562. I-71/75 northbound in Kentucky from KY-371/Buttermilk Pike to US-127/US-42 had the highest travel time index (2.65) during the AM.
- Several non-freeway sections also experience high congestion in the AM peak, including westbound US-50 in Indiana. In Kentucky, north and southbound sections of both KY-17 and KY-237; east and westbound sections of KY-1120. In Ohio, north and southbound sections of US-27 and OH-4; east and westbound sections of both OH-73 and OH-125; and northbound section of OH-741.
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Evening Bottlenecks (4-7 PM):
- In Kentucky, I-275 westbound from Turkeyfoot Road to I-71/I-75, I-275 eastbound from Kenton County Line to Ohio River; I-471 northbound from US-27 to Three Mile Creek and along the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge; I-471 southbound from the Daniel Beard Bridge to I-275, I-71/I-75 northbound from US-42/US-127 to the Ohio River; and I71/I-75 southbound from the Ohio River to I-275 showed high congestion with a travel time index as high as 1.86.
- In Ohio, I-275 eastbound from I-75 to Wards Corner Road; I-275 westbound from Reed Hartman Highway to Winton Road/South Gilmore Road; and from OH-126 to I-74. Other bottlenecks include I-71 northbound from Lincoln Avenue to Pfeiffer Road; I-71 southbound from Western Row Road to Ridge Avenue and from Victory Parkway to Elm Street; I-74 westbound from I-75 to US-27 and from US-52 to I-275; I-74 eastbound from West Road to Dry Fork Road; I-75 northbound from 8th Street to Linn Street, from the Western Hills Viaduct to Hopple Street; and from US-127 to Union Boulevard; and I-75 southbound from Union Center Boulevard to 6th Street West suffer from high congestion with a travel time index as high as 4.70.
- Non-freeway locations also experience high PM congestion, such as east and westbound sections of US-50 in Indiana. In Kentucky, east and westbound sections of KY-8 and KY-1120; westbound section of KY-9; and north and southbound sections of KY-17 and KY-237. In Ohio, north and southbound sections of US-27, OH-4, OH-4 Bypass; and OH-741; east and westbound sections of OH-73 and OH-125.
Peak Period Travel Times between Major Destinations
To examine travel times within the OKI region, major destinations, including the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), downtown Cincinnati, Eastgate shopping area, Northern Kentucky University, Kings Island and Sharonville, are chosen for analysis.
PM peak travel times are used because PM is typically more congested. The travel times are average weekday PM peak hour travel times for 2018. Times are for a route on the shortest interstate highway path between destinations. These times only include travel to the section ending nearest the destination; therefore, a small amount of additional travel time, not reflected here, may be necessary to reach the destination.
In 2018, the average PM peak period travel time between major destinations was 24 minutes and in 2015 it was 30 minutes.
Time in parenthesis = 2015 travel times
Time outside of parenthesis = 2018 travel times
Incident Clearance Time
ODOT, through its OHGO program, provides travelers with up-to-date information on road conditions, traffic, construction, and other activity over 200 miles of the region’s busiest highways. This includes over 48 centerline miles of interstates in Kentucky and three miles in Indiana.
Information provided on the site is updated frequently and comes from a variety of sources, such as pavement sensors and monitoring stations, traffic cameras, and through direct input by ODOT personnel. Incident management consists of a planned and coordinated multi-disciplinary process to detect, respond to, and clear traffic incidents so that traffic flow may be restored as safely and quickly as possible. Effective incident management dramatically reduces the duration and impacts of traffic incidents. The ODOT Traffic Operations Control Center in Columbus monitors traffic with more than 80 cameras in the OKI region, facilitating communication among law enforcement and emergency responders.
In the 2nd quarter of 2017, ODOT logged more than 3,800 traffic incidents in the OKI region that were not caused by roadwork, weather or special events. The average incident clearance time in 2017 was 128 minutes.
Summary of Performance Measures and the Cost of Congestion
A summary of data for OKI’s Congestion Management Network (CMN) as it relates to several performance measures and a comparison to previous data, if available, is summarized as follows:
In 2018, 95.3% of person-miles traveled on the interstates and 96.8% of all non-interstate person miles traveled on the NHS network were considered to be reliable (LOTTR).
The average travel time between major destinations during PM peak period in 2018 was 24 minutes. In 2015, the average travel time was 30 minutes.
Total peak hours of excessive delay for trucks on the National Freight Network is 11,949 hours per day.
Average incident clearance time, as collected by ODOT for the 2nd quarter 2017, is 128 minutes. This is the average time for clearing disabled automobiles and crash incidents on the “OHGO” system from the time the incident was first observed by ODOT operators. This is greater than the same period last year.
In 2018, 63.6% of OKI freight network miles were considered to be reliable.
15.2% of the daily vehicle miles traveled operated under congested conditions.
The percent of non-SOV travel in the OKI region in 2017 was 17.3 percent.
Using a value of time of $18.12 an hour for non-commercial travel and $52.14 an hour for commercial travel (truck travel), the daily cost of peak hour delay was $3.9 million in wasted time.
In 2018, annual hours of excessive delay per capita was 34.
The average Travel Time Index in 2018 on the NHS network was 1.22.
From 2016-2019, 13 CMAQ-funded projects were estimated to reduce daily VOC and NOx emissions by 51.6 kg and 133.41 kg, respectively.
In addition to the value of time, the delay cost of wasted fuel in the Cincinnati urban area for 2017 was estimated at $550,000 per day. Cost components from the 2019 Urban Mobility Report were used, including value of gasoline and diesel. This equates to more than $200 Million per year.
Potential Congestion Management Strategies
OKI’s CMP has identified a number of strategies to combat congestion. Strategies can be broadly divided into four categories: travel demand management, traffic operational improvements, public transportation improvements and highway capacity expansion. Many of the recommended projects in this Plan will contain congestion management strategies.
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Travel Demand Management (TDM)
• Motorists pay for the use of certain roads and bridges. Motorists may face usage fee schedules ranging from peak-only fees to fees that vary by time of day, facility or level of use. Congestion pricing includes the use of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, where SOV motorists may pay a variable fee to use a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane.
• Traveler information on availability of parking spaces, reduced parking fees for high-occupant vehicles or by time of day. Communities can also consider the implementation of timed and paid parking along or near high congestion corridors as well as additional parking enforcement resources.
Carpools and Vanpools
• Ridesharing in carpools or vanpools reduce single-occupant vehicle (SOV) travel. A carpool generally involves two to five people sharing a ride in their personal cars. Vans are typically leased through a van pool provider and can accommodate up to twelve people. Public and private parking operators can provide preferred or discounted parking for SOV alternatives.
• Development policies that support increased accessibility to bicycle, pedestrian, scooters and transit can reduce demand for travel by automobile. This is sometimes achieved through policies that encourage new transit-oriented designs or reinvestment in existing urban centers.
Incorporate bicycle facilities
• Optimizing use existing streets by incorporating bicycle facilities in the form of striped bike lanes, shared use paths, or side paths to facilitate road-sharing and encourage bicycle use. Expansion of bike-share programs also encourage bicycle use.
• Work schedules influence commuter travel patterns. In designing work schedules, employers influence peak period travel volumes and employee inclination to use transit, carpools, and other SOV alternatives. Other employer strategies such as allowing flexible scheduling or telecommuting encourage their employees to reduce peak period travel or the amount of travel to and from the work site.
• Increasing intercity freight rail or port capacity to reduce truck use of highways.
Telecommuting — also known as working from home (WFH), working remotely, or e-commuting—is a work arrangement in which the employee works outside the office. Often this means working from home or at a location close to home, such as libraries, or co-working spaces.
Rather than traveling to the office, the employee “travels” via telecommunication links, keeping in touch with coworkers and employers via telephone, online chat programs, video meetings, and email. The worker may occasionally enter the office to attend meetings in-person and touch base with the employer.
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Transportation System Management and Operation (TSMO) and Intelligent Transportation System (ITS)
Applying coordinated and/or adaptive signal systems as exemplified by closed loop and centralized systems. This may also include signal priority for transit vehicles. The benefits of improved signal systems are commonly measured by reductions in travel time, vehicle stops, delay, fuel consumption, and emissions, and increases in travel speed.
Expansion of traveler information systems
Information on travel times and incidents provided in real-time to the traveler via dynamic message signs, a personal electronic device or telephone 511 system. ODOT currently operates dynamic message signs, information thru website or personal electronic device and a 511 system for a large portion of the region’s interstate highway system.
Active traffic management
An approach for dynamically managing and controlling traffic demand and available capacity of transportation facilities, based on prevailing conditions, using one or a combination of real-time and predictive operational strategies. When implemented together and alongside traditional travel demand management strategies, these operational strategies help to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the transportation facility and result in improved safety, trip reliability and throughput. Components of active traffic management may include speed harmonization, temporary shoulder use, queue warning, dynamic merge control, construction zone management, dynamic truck restrictions, dynamic rerouting and traveler information, dynamic lane markings or automated speed enforcement.
Metering is an effective way to improve traffic flow on interstates without adding additional lanes. The meter allows traffic to enter the freeway at a rate dependent on the conditions of the freeway traffic. Motorists may be delayed at the meter, but freeway speeds and overall travel times are improved.
Controls the design and operation of driveway and street connections onto a highway. Control is achieved by public plans or policies aimed at preserving the functional integrity of the existing roadway system.
Improve intersection geometry
Involves increasing the radius of corners to facilitate the movement of trucks and buses through an intersection. High volume locations may require a complete rebuilding of the intersection or interchange with new geometric solutions such as a continuous flow intersection (CFI) or a single-point urban interchange (SPUI).
Consists of physical design and other measures, including narrowed roads, speed humps, or removing travel lanes (road diet) put in place on roads for the intention of slowing down or reducing motor-vehicle traffic as well as to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Consists of a planned and coordinated multi-disciplinary process to detect, respond to, and clear traffic incidents so that traffic flow may be restored as safely and quickly as possible. Effective incident management reduces the duration and impacts of traffic incidents and improves the safety of motorists, crash victims and emergency responders. ODOT currently provides incident management for a large portion of the region’s interstate highway system.
Intersection turn lanes
The addition of new turn lanes can provide greater capacity for the intersection without modifying the basic geometry of the intersection. This category may also include restricting certain turning movements.
Eliminate at-grade rail crossings
In a few areas of the region, at-grade rail crossings reduce traffic flow on major arterials. The separation of rail and roadway travel improves congestion and safety.
Work zone management
Improved traffic management in and around work zones.
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Public Transportation Improvements
Congestion on a particular facility or corridor may be alleviated with the addition of new fixed-route bus service, expansion of existing service, or new rail transit service.
New or expanded Park and Ride facilities or transit centers
Park-and-ride facilities allow for transfers between SOV’s to carpools, vanpools or transit service. Transit centers are facilities where transfers can be made between automobiles and buses, between bus routes, between bus routes and/or rail transit lines, or between different rail transit lines.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
BRT is an integrated system of transit measures that work together to significantly improve bus service. These measures include frequent service, a simplified route structure, limited stops, exclusive bus lanes, branding of vehicles and stop facilities, enhanced stops or stations, special vehicles, off-vehicle fare collection and real time passenger information.
Reserved bus travel lanes including bus-on-shoulder
Travel lanes where only public transit buses are permitted provide the opportunity to avoid known traffic bottlenecks and increase the attractiveness of bus travel. Bus-on-shoulder refers to locations where public transit buses are permitted to use the shoulder of expressways when traffic slows.
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Highway Capacity Expansion
Deficient roadway capacity is a major contributor to congestion. Additional roadway capacity is needed in many areas to keep-up with increased travel demand.
Elimination of bottle necks
Bottle necks occur where short sections of the roadway are of an insufficient width or number of lanes to accommodate the travel demand. Freeway interchange design deficiencies can also be considered a bottleneck.
Center turn lanes
Center turn lanes provide an area where vehicles can move out of the thru lanes and pause while making a left-hand turn.