How Bad Is Spokane Traffic?

Spokane’s traffic isn’t terrible, but the city’s commuters still lose up to 20 hours a year in traffic delays
Written by Mary Alice Morris
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
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Commuters in Spokane lose, on average, 20 hours a year due to traffic delays. It’s nowhere close to the worst traffic in the country, but it still represents a significant amount of time lost. 
Spokane, Washington sits just 90 miles south of the Canadian border in eastern Washington. It’s just a short drive from Idaho and is shielded by two mountain ranges: The Cascades to the west and the Rockies to the east. The gorgeous Spokane River, a large tributary of the Columbia River, runs right through the heart of the city. 
Drivers in Spokane are spared some of the worst traffic that commuters in large cities see. But, Spokane does have its occasional traffic hangups, sometimes due to road work,
winter weather
, or congestion. Here's a guide to get you through the worst of Spokane’s traffic—any time of year. 
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How bad is Spokane traffic?

According to traffic analysts at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Spokane’s traffic congestion has decreased significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s traffic delays are only 43% of what drivers in Spokane saw pre-pandemic. 
Still, the city has its periods of heavy congestion, and a few particular areas are known to get backed up. Spokane also gets about four feet of snow a year, meaning winter weather can impact travel times. 
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What causes Spokane’s heavy traffic?

Even though it’s a smaller city with a decent flow of traffic, even Spokane sees its share of congestion. A few factors contribute to some of the busiest travel hours and locations in Spokane. 

Population size 

Spokane is home to about 220,000 people—a number that continues to grow. Although the city sprawls out over 70 miles, its increasing population only means more drivers on the road. Recent data shows it’s among the fastest-growing cities in the country, and when infrastructure doesn’t keep pace with population growth, traffic congestion happens.

Major chokepoints

Spokane notoriously lacks a good way to travel efficiently from one end of the city to the other. A north-south freeway called the North Spokane Corridor is supposed to remedy this routine hangup, but so far only about half of the freeway is open and operational. The road project won’t be completed until 2029
Unsurprisingly, I-90 sees a little congestion—especially during the morning and evening weekday commutes. Otherwise, known traffic hotspots in Spokane include the historic Monroe Street Bridge, 2nd Avenue, 3rd Avenue, Pacific Avenue, and Riverside Avenue. 

Driving habits

Traffic data shows that Spokane’s morning commute tends to be pretty smooth and efficient, notwithstanding the occasional mishap (fender-benders, broken-down cars blocking the lane, or weather-related road conditions). But, like a lot of cities, the afternoon shows a significant uptick in drivers on the road, with 4 p.m. being the most congested hour to drive. 
Spokane’s afternoon rush hour starts picking up around 2 p.m. daily and continues until around 8 p.m. or even 9 p.m. on Friday nights. 

How to navigate Spokane traffic like a pro

Every city sees its share of traffic congestion, and Spokane is no exception. To get around through the worst of it, keep these tips in mind:
  • Watch the weather. While using all-season traction tires and
    tired chains
    is common in Washington, it’s still a good idea to stay aware of the weather and
    prepare yourself for winter driving
    before hitting the road—especially during winter. Winter weather can cause road conditions to deteriorate quickly, which can increase traffic congestion and collisions. 
  • Avoid rush hour when you can. The worst of Spokane’s rush hour traffic is from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. most days. If you can get around driving between those hours, you should be able to avoid the heaviest of the traffic. 
  • Take an alternate route. Research a few different ways to get to your location so you have a detour on backup if traffic goes awry on your normal route. For instance, while the Monroe Street Bridge is known to get backed up, there are several other river crossings available in Spokane that could serve as an alternate route. 
  • Tune in to local traffic conditions. KXLY 100.7 FM radio provides area traffic updates during peak travel times. Another option is to download a live
    traffic app
    to stay aware of current conditions.
  • Keep your focus. No matter how heavy or light the traffic is, always keep your focus on your driving. That means keeping your eyes on the road and staying aware of your surroundings. Don’t get distracted by your phone, eating, or changing your podcast when you’re driving. 

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FAQs

In general, Spokane’s flow of traffic is pretty relaxed compared to other cities. However, if you’re not used to driving in winter weather conditions, it’s a good idea to prepare ahead of time. If you must drive in winter weather, you want to have the appropriate traction tires or chains, an emergency winter car kit, and a fully-charged phone with you at all times.
Spokane sees its most congested traffic on weekday afternoons and evenings, usually between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Otherwise, there is a moderate increase in traffic congestion in the morning.
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