Traffic congestion in and around the Chicago metropolitan area costs the region $7.3 billion a year, a new study commissioned by the Metropolitan Planning Council released Tuesday found.

Traffic congestion in and around the Chicago metropolitan area costs the region $7.3 billion a year, a new study commissioned by the Metropolitan Planning Council released Tuesday found.

Congestion hurts Chicago’s global competitiveness and costs families time in traffic and gas money, according to the report, “Moving at the Speed of Congestion: The True Costs of Traffic in the Chicago Metropolitan Area.” The region pays $354 million a year in wasted gas as vehicles sit in traffic, with congestion raising travel times by 22 percent, the report said.

About 87,000 jobs could be added to the region if congestion was eliminated, the council said.

“The last 40 years of investment styles have not produced good results,” said Peter Skosey, vice president of external relations for the Metropolitan Planning Council. “It’s not just a matter of more money. It’s a matter of more money well spent.”

Most of the area’s congestion–71 percent–occurs in Cook County, including 8 percent in downtown Chicago, 39 percent in the rest of the city and 24 percent in the suburbs, according to the study. The rest of the congestion splits among DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

Traffic and congestion mostly originate in suburban Cook, DuPage and Kane counties, the study found.

The study is evidence the state needs to pass Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s capital spending plan, which includes roads, bridges and the public transit system, Illinois Department of Transportation officials said.

“Approval of the Illinois Works capital plan … would not only boost economic development and create jobs, it would also allow us to reduce congestion by expanding our road network and improving mass transit,” IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said in an e-mail.

Skosey said understanding the congestion problem lets officials address it sooner.

“The region in the world that solves this congestion problem first is going to have a greater competitive advantage over others,” he said. (AP)

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