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Microsoft, Zillow, Other Seattle-Area Companies Team Up To Try To Fix Region’s Traffic Woes

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Elaine Thompson
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AP Images
Traffic creeps along toward downtown on Interstate 5, left, and remains slowed down heading out during the rainy morning commute Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in Seattle.

(This story has been updated to include recently released data showing the number of hours an average Seattle commuter spent stuck in traffic in 2015..)

The average Seattle-area commuter wasted 66 hours stuck in traffic last year, according to the traffic data firm Inrix. Now, a group of the region’s major companies is trying to unclog our streets as part of a broader push to improve the quality of life around the Puget Sound region.

Microsoft, Zillow, Starbucks, Boeing, Amazon – plus other big local business names, have come together to form something called Challenge Seattle. The aim is to take on some of Seattle’s biggest problems, such as gridlock. The companies say they’ll use their technological expertise to make improvements and help us all get where we want to go faster.

Microsoft President Brad Smith says his company will work with University of Washington researchers to help try out what he calls “smarter cars” – for example, ones that can detect traffic hazards ahead.

“We’ll be constructing a set of sensors on the streets in our campus and then enable the University of Washington and car companies to come bring their vehicles and test them in a real-world environment,” said Smith.

Smith says Microsoft isn’t getting into the business of building cars, but is doing a lot of work on the computer systems needed to make smarter cars a reality. He and the other executives involved in Challenge Seattle say that the city faces a transportation crisis – and that solving it requires collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Former Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is serving as Challenge Washington’s chief executive. She says the Seattle region needs to figure out a more predictable source of funding for road repair and other transportation needs.

“What we’re seeing happening around our country in particular is current assets, whether it’s a ferry or a bridge or a highway, that are not being kept up and the cost then to get them back up to scale is so exorbitant, you might as well take it down and build it new. That’s not smart,” said Gregoire.

She says that kind of maintenance money should be built into big projects such as Sound Transit 3. That’s a ballot measure planned for November that will include expanded light rail service. A draft plan for Sound Transit 3 is expected later this month.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.