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Traffic congestion dips, except in LV

WASHINGTON — Drivers are spending less time stuck in rush-hour traffic for a second straight year, the first-ever two-year decline in congestion as high gasoline prices and the economic downturn force many Americans to change how they commute.

In individual cities, Los Angeles traffic is getting better but is still the worst in the nation. Washington’s is getting worse, now ranking second.

The average U.S. driver languished in rush-hour traffic for 36.1 hours in 2007, down from 36.6 hours in 2006 and a peak of 37.4 hours in 2005, according to a study being released today by the Texas Transportation Institute. Total wasted fuel also edged lower for the first time, from 2.85 billion gallons in 2006 to 2.81 billion, or roughly three weeks’ worth of gasoline per traveler.

Las Vegas, however, showed a slight uptick in the number of hours spent in congestion, to 44 hours from 43.

A Nevada Transportation official said the slight rise in Las Vegas’ congestion in 2007 has to do with continuous growth and the accompanying construction on major highways in the valley.

For instance, 2007 marked the beginning of the Interstate 15 north widening project, said Bob McKenzie, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

There was also construction on other major roadways including the final stages of the decade long U.S. Highway 95 north widening project and improvements made to the Las Vegas Beltway.

"We do our best to maintain traffic flow during construction," McKenzie said.

But congestion and traffic slow downs are often the result of transportation construction projects. That’s why transportation officials encourage motorists to use alternate routes and avoid construction zones, McKenzie said.

The last time traffic congestion had declined was in 1991 amid a spike in oil prices during the first Gulf War.

The records go back a quarter-century, to 1982.

This time, demographers attributed the decrease to a historic cutback in driving as commuters reduced solo trips, took public transit or carpooled after gasoline prices surged toward $4 a gallon and then the economy faltered.

Review-Journal writer Francis McCabe contributed to this report.

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