How Bad Is Madison Traffic?

Drivers lose 12 hours per year to traffic caused by Madison’s cramped streets, which are enhanced by extreme weather in the area.
Written by Drew Waterstreet
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Drivers in
Madison, Wisconsin
lose about 12 hours to traffic congestion each year according to a recent study, making it the #99 most congested city in the US.
This isn’t necessarily the statistic you want to break the top 100 for—quite the opposite. Nevertheless, traffic in Madison could be exacerbated by the city layout and inclement weather.
Understanding your residential driving environment is a focal point in configuring an optimized
car insurance
policy. Luckily, the #1 rated insurance app
is here to break down the ins and outs of Madison traffic patterns. 
We’ll cover the reasons why Madison traffic can get backed up, how to avoid losing time on the road, and where you can find the right insurance policy to protect you while you commute.
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How bad is Madison traffic?

According to the
INRIX 2021 Traffic Scorecard Report
, Madison came in as the 99th most congested city in the nation. While making a Top 100 list is usually something to celebrate, this isn’t one of those cases.
On average, Madison drivers lose an annual total of 12 hours in stopped or stop-and-go traffic. In addition, traffic costs Madison drivers an additional $190 per year—from wear and tear or excess gas usage.
There is one thing to note about the 2021 data. As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers could increase as people return to their regularly scheduled commuting.
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Why is Madison traffic so bad?

Now that we know the effects of Madison’s lousy traffic, let’s take a look at the causes

Major chokepoints

The downtown area known as Madison Isthmus is surrounded by Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, and the University of Wisconsin campus. Unfortunately, this tightly cramped space can cause some significant congestion on city streets. 
Here are some streets in particular that are susceptible to traffic:
  • Fitch Ct
  • Midland St
  • S Paterson St
  • US-12 East
  • Railroad St
  • John Nolan Dr
  • Whitney Way
  • Park St
If you’re looking to bypass downtown altogether, you can utilize the Madison Beltline. This maneuver could save you time (and a headache).


During an average winter, Madison accumulates 42 inches of snow. Large amounts of snow and ice can create a dangerous driving environment. This is pretty self-explanatory, especially for residents who have lived in the midwest for the majority of their lives. Proceed with caution!

College town

Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin, which has a total enrollment of roughly 45,000 students. Considering the city of Madison only has 250,000 people, the student population plays a significant role in traffic patterns. You can expect to see congestion more often when school is in session—especially if it’s Badger’s gameday!
MORE: The best type of car insurance to get if you commute long distances
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How to navigate Madison traffic like a pro

We get it, being stuck in traffic can be
brutally frustrating
. However, i’s important to keep a level head while you wait for the congestion to be relieved.
What if we told you that you could avoid the traffic altogether? The good news is we have some tips on how to mitigate your time lost in Madison traffic:
  • Take the Madison Beltline. This highway is designed to bypass downtown Madison entirely. However, the popularity of this shortcut has led to its own (lesser) traffic issues. Luckily, the city of Madison has voted for lane expansion on the highway.
  • Visit during the summer. If you’re a Madison tourist, it’s best to visit while the students are out of session.
  • Plan ahead.
    1310 WIBA
    has an excellent online resource for checking traffic conditions before leaving the house. Google Maps can also provide real-time updates for any obstacles along your route.
  • Stay alert and focused. As tempting as it may be, checking your phone while waiting in traffic is a big no-no.
    Distracted driving
    is unsafe and can be a ticketed offense.

Prepare for Madison traffic by updating your car insurance

No matter how good your driving skills are, what happens after hitting a patch of ice is usually out of your control. Ensure you’re covered with a
car insurance
policy that matches your driving environment.
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The answer is yes most of the time, but it depends on the time of year. For example, Madison can be difficult to navigate when students are in session and during the winter months.
In the summertime, the students are away from campus, and there isn’t any snow on the ground. If you’re simply driving through, you can avoid downtown altogether by taking the Madison Beltline. Otherwise, it’s wise to avoid peak rush hour times of 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
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