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WBUR Poll: Boston-Area Residents Say Traffic Is Getting Worse, But MBTA May Be A Solution06:31

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Traffic is a big problem in the area, and is getting worse, our poll finds. Here is a familiar sight for anyone who drives on the Southeast Expressway. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)closemore
Traffic is a big problem in the area, and is getting worse, our poll finds. Here is a familiar sight for anyone who drives on the Southeast Expressway. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Traffic is getting worse. That's the conclusion of Boston-area residents surveyed in a new WBUR poll (topline, crosstabs).

Fifty-seven percent say it's gotten worse in the last five years. You could point to the rebounding economy, but whatever the reason, almost 2 in 5 residents say traffic has caused them to be late for work. And 14 percent say they've considered leaving the area to get away from the traffic.

Boston area traffic problems continue to worsen, residents say

'It's Miserable'

Sitting in his pickup truck on Winter Street in Dorchester, Doug Lowe does not like what he sees on his way to work.

"With the building that's going on in Boston, you're going to see more and more people on the roads," he says.

Lowe's wife, who commutes to Watertown, has already seen the change.

"She used to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning to be there for 8:30, and it was so stressful to her that she now gets up at 5," Lowe says.

Lowe's commute begins at 8:15 in the morning on a quiet street in Dorchester's Meeting House Hill.

"My general commute is 8 miles," Lowe explains. "And in the morning it takes me on average about 30 minutes to get there."

Lowe's evening commute takes him on average 45 minutes. Our survey of 502 registered voters living within Route 128 found the median commute to work in the Boston area was 25 minutes; from work it was 30 minutes. Two-thirds of drivers encounter delays at least once a week because of too many vehicles on the roads.

For some, it's a much longer commute.

Marissa Lomas starts her drive to her job as a teacher in Brookline from Ipswich. "I leave my house about 5:45 in the morning, and can get to school by 7," she says.

That 75-minute drive has led her to ponder a dramatic life change.

"I am considering changing jobs because of the commute," she says.

Lomas is not alone. Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey, finds nearly 1 in 7 residents in the Boston region say, in the last few months, traffic has made them consider changing jobs to improve their commute.

"We're talking about 13 or 14 percent, depending on if you're inside or outside of the city," Koczela says. "And it's sort of, the further away you are, and the further you have to drive and the longer it takes you, the more likely you are to be thinking about this."

Bob Caruso's commute these days is very short. He lives in Union Square in Somerville. He's a contractor and his job site right now is just eight blocks from home. Sitting in a cafe, Caruso says nevertheless, traffic has a major impact on his work.

"I just don't like to spend my time in the car. So I'll take a job, a less desirable local job, as long as the client is a good client, before I take a more, say, glamorous job or larger job someplace that causes me to drive on 128 or 93," Caruso says. "It just makes everything more complicated, and it's miserable."

Traffic zooms by Boston's South Station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Traffic zooms by Boston's South Station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Drivers See MBTA As A Solution

On his way to his family's moving business in Charlestown, Lowe says the traffic, and the limits of the MBTA, affect his business. Most of his employees take the T to work. Because he wants them to start moves on time, he asks them to be at the shop early.

"And I would like the crews to report sometimes at 5:30 in the morning, but I can't because they just can't get there on time," Lowe explains, noting that the T doesn't start early enough.

Because Lowe's crews can't get to work earlier, his vehicles get stuck in traffic as they try to leave Charlestown to get to customers. And that costs him money.

Our survey found 42 percent of people in the region regularly take public transportation to work. Two-thirds drive or carpool. Many respondents reported using multiple means of transportation on a regular basis.

Many report being late for work or missing important gatherings with family and friends. Lowe understands this all too well.

"Last night I had to go to an event at Bridgewater State to see my sister get an award. I had to leave my office in Charlestown at 3 o'clock in the afternoon to try to get there for 6:30," he says.

But Boston-area residents have hope: 81 percent of respondents believe better policies could improve traffic.

Even though he and his wife drive, Lowe sees the T as the solution.

"Having more rail and ease of access to rail is probably the best alleviating method," he says. "I would love to see them build a tunnel that goes from North Station to South Station. I think it's crazy that they don't connect."

Lowe is not alone. A majority of both T riders and drivers say making the T more frequent and reliable would improve traffic. That's what Koczela, the pollster, says most surprised him about this poll.

"You would expect since most people in the area drive that you'd hear a lot about roads, hear a lot about highways ... but the No. 1 one thing people said could be done to improve traffic was to improve the MBTA."

Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group

"You would expect since most people in the area drive that you'd hear a lot about roads, hear a lot about highways, widening highways, repaving roads and so forth, but the No. 1 thing people said could be done to improve traffic was to improve the MBTA, and number two was to make the MBTA more affordable," Koczela says. "So the amount of focus placed on the T was quite surprising."

Thirty-one minutes after leaving Meeting House Hill, Lowe arrives at work in Charlestown.

"It used to be better when I had my dog and I would commute with him," he says. "He would help me relax."

But even without his dog, Lowe is in good company. Our poll finds 60 percent of Boston-area residents drive to work by themselves.

Related audio

This segment aired on April 25, 2016.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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