Best times to miss Austin's notoriously bad traffic

Every day brings a different rush hour in Austin, and drivers can save both time and money by avoiding those peak times. (CBS Austin)

Every day brings a different rush hour in Austin, and drivers can save both time and money by avoiding those peak times.

The new MoPac express lanes increase in price as traffic gets worse. So analyzing the prices can show when rush hour begins and ends on every day of the week. It also shows when the worst times are to be on the road.

"Every day is a different story," Regional Mobility Authority's Steve Pustelnyk said.

Each day can have a different morning and evening rush hour. Analyzing those prices showed some trends throughout the week.

CBS Austin gathered data from the first weeks after the express lanes opened. Those show rush hour times on MoPac for southbound in the morning to Cesar Chavez, and rush hour times on MoPac northbound in the evening coming out of downtown.

After looking through thousands of transactions, CBS Austin used $1 cost for both express lane sections as the benchmark for when rush hour begins. Then when the express lanes went back to the minimum at $.25, that's when rush hour ends.

"At 25 cents that's telling you that MoPac is free-flowing," Pustelnyk said.

Using those parameters, it shows Monday morning rush hour is slightly later between 7:15 and 9:15. Then Tuesday through Friday show similar rush hours between 6:45 and 9:15.

Each day seemed to have a different time for a peak price during the rush hour, but the average appeared to be around 8:30. Friday, though, was around 8:00 a.m.

During the afternoon Monday northbound rush hour started slightly later between 4 and 6:40. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday stayed fairly similar showing rush hour times between 3:45 and 6:50. Friday starts earlier and ends earlier. It goes from 2:45 to 6:15.

In both rush hours, a couple trends appeared. First, Mondays and Fridays were different from Tuesday through Thursday.

"In general Mondays and Fridays tend to have a more spread out peak hour where traffic tends to not be as congested at a peak time," Pustelnyk said.

Also, traffic gets exponentially faster starting at around 6:30 p.m. On one Wednesday, the price to take the express lane was more than $9 at 6:49 p.m. Then 12 minutes later it was back to $.25

That also happens on I-35.

"We've seen pretty similar travel times," TxDOT spokesperson Diann Hodges said.

Hodges said they keep track of travel times on I-35 to figure out when is the best time for lane closures for construction.

Those times show similar trends to MoPac. Except rush hour tends to peak earlier in the mornings at around 7:45 a.m.

Different sections also show different trends. There is more traffic on Thursdays going southbound in the afternoon between Braker Ln. and Riverside Dr. There is also more traffic going northbound on Tuesday mornings between SH 45 SW and Riverside Dr.

With all this data, Pustelnyk said the biggest thing that surprises him is that 30 to 40 percent of drivers on the road are not following a daily routine.

"You don't really have this obvious commuter pattern that we all envision that every day it's the same person out there slogging away at the same time going to work," Pustelnyk said.

Commuters like Donna Shubrook say knowing when not to be on the road is useful. Shubrook works at Silicon Labs in downtown Austin and lives in Hutto. That can be more than an hour long commute.

"It's good to know that because you can adjust your schedule slightly," Shubrook said.

Shubrook does take advantage of knowing rush hour times. She gets into work at around 9:30 a.m. and leaves for home at around 7:30 a.m.

"So it just depends on if you like sitting in your car or you want to sit in your desk for a few more minutes," Shubrook said.

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