Twin Cities had biggest gridlock drop in country last year, says U.S. Traffic Scorecard

Compared to 2010, Twin Cities commuters breathed a lot easier last year.

According to the 2011 U.S. Traffic Scorecard, Minneapolis (really, the Twin Cities metro) had the biggest decrease in traffic congestion from 2010 through 2011.

The scorecard uses traffic information from more than four million vehicles equipped with GPS devices in compiling the annual list of the most- and least-frustrating places to drive in America.

Scorecard co-author Jim Bak told the USA Today that Minneapolis's dip correlates with a reduction in construction activity -- the number of roadwork projects in the area declined from 283 in 2010 to 258 last year.

"So much of the roadwork and construction that was a result of the stimulus is now completed," Bak said. "Construction work in general is down, as governments are reining in spending."

Most notably, of course, was the fall 2010 completion of the massive Crosstown construction project at I-35W and Highway 62, which dramatically eased the flow of traffic from Minneapolis to and fro the southern suburbs just in time for 2011.

For many metros, decreasing congestion isn't necessarily a good thing. Bak said gridlock reductions often stem from the simple fact that fewer people are driving to work, along with rising fuel prices. For instance, Tampa had the biggest increase in congestion last year, but also experienced strong 3 percent growth in the local employment market.

Said Bak: "Cities that consistently had gas prices equal to or lower than the national average, and that experienced modest job growth, were the cities that tended to have increases in congestion."

The worst metro for congestion two years running is Honolulu, with Los Angeles clocking in as second worst in both 2010 and 2011. Rounding out the top five congested cities list are San Francisco, New York, and Bridgeport, in that order.

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