Traffic jams ease, but only a tiny bit

One of Charleston's heaviest traffic spots is Interstate 26 westbound near Interstate 526.

Driving might be slightly easier around here, according to a new report, but don't tell that to Express Cab driver George Hemingway.

Interstate 26 westbound is as busy as ever, he said. "It's always backed up in North Charleston from Remount Road going up to Ashley Phosphate," Hemingway said.

The Charleston, North Charleston and Summerville area is the worst place to drive in the state, and it ranks No. 69 on a list of the 100 most- congested areas in the country in 2009. Los Angeles tops the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard for having the most traffic.

The latest area-traffic ranking represents a slight improvement. In 2008, the metropolitan area was the 67th worst place to drive nationally. Although congestion as measured here

by INRIX went down some, it hasn't registered in the work day of Yellow Cab driver John Paisley.

"It's totally congested. It's still the same way," Paisley said of downtown Charleston.

United Parcel Service driver Anthony Fabian agreed. "Nothing's changed," he said.

Because of the recession, people have been driving less, according to INRIX.

"A silver lining of the tumultuous past few years is that, for most of us, congestion -- while not eradicated -- has improved significantly. If you have been fortunate enough to stay employed, your commutes have most likely improved," the study said.

The state's debt is projected to grow to $1.28 billion by Dec. 31 if the unemployment rate averages 12 percent this year. It reached 12.6 percent in December, the last month for which data is available.

"Clearly congestion has eased in places like North Carolina and South Carolina with double-digit unemployment," said Tom Crosby, vice president of communications for AAA Carolinas in Charlotte. "It will creep back up hand in hand with what happens with the economy," Crosby said.

According to the study, 5 p.m. Wednesdays is the worst time to drive here. The worst bottleneck is on I-26 westbound at Mall Drive/West Montague Avenue, the report said.

Gridlock scorecard

The Charleston area again was listed among the nation's top 100 most- congested metro areas:

2009 / No. 69

2008 / No. 67

2007 / No. 71

2006 / No. 65

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or pfindlay@postandcourier.com.