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Boston Traffic: Before And After The Big Dig

Traffic enters the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Tunnel, the major component of the Big Dig, Saturday Dec. 8, 2007, in Boston. (AP)

The Big Dig, Boston’s historic highway project, has been back in the news lately.

The newest estimate of the total cost of the Big Dig is a little pricier than earlier estimates: $24.3 billion.

And former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, in an interview with WBUR published Tuesday, called the project an “engineering marvel,” citing it as one of his proudest accomplishments as governor.

While the Big Dig may have been a gargantuan undertaking, the areas that comprised it made up only a fraction of Boston’s roads and highways. But all of this begs the question: “How’s Boston traffic today?”

There may not be a definitive answer. But a handful of companies and research institutions are working to better understand traffic patterns around the country, and in Boston.

On July 10, GPS-giant TomTom released its North American Congestion Index, which tracked traffic patterns for the first quarter of 2012 based on measurements anonymously extracted from individual GPS units.

The Amsterdam-based company (which has its North American headquarters in Concord, Mass.) ranked Boston 19th in traffic congestion among the 26 North American cities surveyed. They also were able to pick out the most congested day of 2012’s first three months: Jan. 21, 2012.

INRIX, Inc., another private company that monitors traffic information, ranked Boston the 11th-most congested city the United States as of May 2012.

Before and after (AP)

But according to the the Texas Transportation Institute, one of the largest transportation research agencies in the United States, Boston, in 2010, was ranked ninth in delay per peak auto commuter a year — in plain English, the total amount of time that rush-hour commuters were delayed in a year. The TTI releases Mobility Data for most major cities in the nation, including Boston.

When the TTI first started compiling traffic data for Boston in 1982, the city was ranked was ranked 18th in delay per peak auto commuter. But Boston had jumped up to eighth in 1990 – a year before the dig started — and was ranked eighth in 2007 when the dig was completed.

The TTI’s data shows that traffic delays have steadily climbed since 1990, when on average peak auto commuters were delayed 29 hours a year. Delays reached their peak during the dig’s construction in 2005 — tallying in at 57 hours a year — but were most recently pegged at 47 hours a year in 2010.

Has the Big Dig improved your commute? Do you think it was worth it? Post your comments below.

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