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  1. Transportation

Tampa Bay traffic ranks No. 11 — even worse than Boston — in TomTom report

TAMPA — What's black, marked with white stripes — and red all over? Tampa Bay's streets.

Glowing brake lights are a staple during morning and afternoon commutes — so much so that the region ranked No. 11 in the nation for traffic congestion, according to a report this week from TomTom International, which makes GPS units. The only Florida metro that ranked worse was Miami at No. 7.

From Interstate 75 to the sunny Pinellas County beaches, Tampa Bay area traffic is more congested than Boston (No. 16) and Orlando (18). And it's getting worse.

Last year, bay area drivers sat in so much traffic, it amounted to 25 percent additional drive time overall. That's a 5 percent increase from three years ago, a surge TomTom spokeswoman Lindsay Mandeville called "quite significant."

During peak times, the traffic delays spike. From about 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., a 30-minute commute takes on average about 10 minutes longer. And from about 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., traffic congestion tacks on 16 minutes.

"There are obviously extreme cases of it taking much longer," Mandeville said.

But that means motorists, on average, spend about 72 extra hours — or three days — per year slugging along in gridlock on top of their regular commutes.

Though local drivers might be quick to point out the orange signs and zig-zag construction that plague major highways like the interstates, most of Tampa's congestion is actually on surface streets like Dale Mabry, the report shows.

Travel time increases by about 29 percent on roads like Gandy and Dale Mabry — a jump from the 15-percent increase seen on interstates.

Some days are worse than others. Tuesday mornings and Friday night commutes are the most congested on average. The report doesn't suggest a reason.

Last year, the highest recorded congestion happened May 2 — the first day of the Big Guava Music Festival, which hosted headliners including Outkast, Vampire Weekend and Foster the People.

In 2013, the most congested day was Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

TomTom produced these data based on trip information from its users. While they were stuck in traffic, their GPS or TomTom smartphone app was cataloging it. That information helps drivers avoid more jams.

Of course, it is news to no one that bay area traffic is congested.

On Wednesday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in his inauguration speech highlighted transportation as a priority for his second term.

"We need more (transportation) choices," he said. "We need walkable streets, more bike lanes. Rail to the airport, to our job centers and eventually to St. Petersburg."

To create more choices, Buckhorn is part of the Transportation Policy Leadership Group, a handful of regional leaders who want to enhance roadways, improve intersections, expand the bus system and upgrade the downtown streetcar — all in the form of a plan called GO Hillsborough.

The committee is currently hosting community meetings to promote the plan and help residents understand it, and its funding breakdown phase starts Monday.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@tampabay.com or 813-226-3400. Follow @rachelacrosby.

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