Time is money and when it comes to the amount of time Americans waste sitting in traffic each year, the total cost is significant – $166 billion.
Texas A&M Transportation Institute recently published its 2019 Urban Mobility report and the picture it paints is of an urban gridlock issue that has only been getting worse each year since 1982, the first year with official data on the subject.
In its report, TTI also lists ways that congestion can be addressed. The group advocates for more of everything, roads, transit, squeezing as much efficiency out of the existing system as possible, reducing demand through telework, better balancing demand and roadway capacity by adjusting work hours, and smarter land use. But TTI also admitted that there is no silver bullet when fixing the nationwide problem.
“No single approach will ever solve this complex problem,” says Tim Lomax, a report author and Regents Fellow at TTI. “We know what works. What the country needs is a robust, information-powered conversation at the local, state and national levels about what steps should be taken. We have many strategies; we have to figure out the right solution for each problem and a way to pay for them.”
Part of the problem is actually the result of a good thing, more Americans are working and driving to work. From 2016-2017, the U.S. added 1.9 million jobs, according to TTI, and with unemployment near all-time lows, more Americans are joining the workforce every month.
Since 1982, the nation’s workforce has grown almost nonstop by just over 50% to the current total of 153 million. The average number of hours per commuter lost to traffic delay has nearly tripled in that time, climbing to 54 hours a year per person. And the annual cost of those delays has nearly doubled to its current rate of $1,010 per person, per year.
“Simply put, travel demand is growing faster than the system’s ability to absorb that demand. Once considered a problem exclusive to big cities, roadway gridlock now afflicts urban areas of all sizes and consumes far more of each day, making rush hour a long-outdated reference,” said David Schrank, a TTI senior research scientist and report author.
Part of that total is due to the inefficient fuel mileage of driving in gridlock traffic. The amount of fuel wasted in stalled traffic has more than tripled since 1982, to 3.3 billion gallons a year.
TTI said that the average freeway traveler has to allow almost twice the expected trip duration to ensure dependable arrival for time-sensitive events such as medical appointments, day-care pickup and airline flights. Instead of the 20 minutes needed in light traffic, it’s best to plan a 34-minute trip, according to TTI.
Of course commuters are not the only ones using our roads with time sensitive appointments. The problem affects manufactures, carriers and shippers and those delays are also passed on to the consumer. While commercial trucks make up only 7% of road traffic, they account for 12% of congestion cost, according to TTI.
“Those minutes don’t sound like much, but they add up quickly over a year,” said Schrank “Eventually, we’re talking billions of wasted hours, and the cost of delay at that scale is just enormous.”
The 2019 Urban Mobility Report, which examines conditions in 494 urban areas in every state and Puerto Rico, is available online.