Study: Traffic snarl costing Americans $63.1 billion annually

A new report on worsening traffic congestion on U.S. roads reveals a pressing need for increased road building capacity in the nation’s fastest growing areas.

The Texas Transportation Institute’s 2005 Urban Mobility Report, which measured traffic congestion trends from 1982 to 2003, warns the increasing snarl of automobiles on the nation’s roadways is costing Americans more than $63.1 billion a year in hours spent delayed in traffic and wasted gallons of fuel from idling engines.

“It speaks to the need for public transportation and more roads, predominately in growing areas,” said the study’s author Tim Lomax, a research engineer with TTI.

Lomax said the difficulty in addressing the problem of traffic congestion is its fractured nature. “There is no single solution that can reverse the growth in congestion,” he said.

The study’s release also comes at a time when the U.S. Congress is considering legislation to re-authorize funding for transportation programs and other projects. The House-approved version of the six-year bill includes a program on congestion relief. Senate debate is scheduled for this week.

Building additional road capacity is one of the study’s chief action recommendations. According to the study, the growth in facilities has to be at a rate slightly greater than travel growth in order to maintain constant travel times if additional roads are the only solution used to address mobility concerns.

Pete Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, said it’s no mystery traffic congestion has become a pressing issue for American drivers. He said the government’s transportation funding has not kept pace with the nation’s growing population.

Lomax said his study suggests building roads shouldn’t be the only solution to the problem. Greater use of public transportation, additional high occupancy lanes and other tactics could also be used – to an extent.

The study warns large urban areas are expected to be crowded, but that it shouldn’t be an “all-day event.” What the study accomplishes is getting the issue on the discussion table, Lomax said.

“There is a recognition that there are some programs that we can agree on,” he said.

Some of the study’s notable findings:

  • Annual delay per peak period traveler (rush hour) has grown from 16 hours annually to 47 hours since 1982.
  • The number of urban areas with more than 20 hours of annual delay per peak traveler has grown from only five in 1982 to 51 in 2003.
  • Total amount of delay reached 3.7 billion hours in 2003.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.