Report: Traffic congestion costs billions, weighs on the economic recovery

“This report is further evidence that Congress must reject Republican efforts to slash transportation investment and get to work crafting a surface transportation bill that is large enough in size and scope to put Americans back to work and tackle the backlog of transportation needs in this country.”

President Obama has proposed a boost in infrastructure spending as part of the $447 billion job-creation plan he has touted most of the month. 

“If you invest in roads and transit, you get better service and access to more jobs,” said Tim Lomax, one of the studys authors. “Traffic management and demand management should be part of the mix, too. Generally speaking, mobility investments in congested areas have a high return rate.”

The report found that delays for the average commuter have increased to 34 hours annually, up from 14 hours in 1982.

Congestion is becoming a bigger problem outside of rush hours, with about 40 percent of delays occurring in the afternoon and overnight, creating “an increasingly serious problem for businesses that rely on efficient production and deliveries.”

The economic recession has only provided a temporary respite from the growing congestion problem. When the economic growth returns, the average commuter is estimated to see an additional three hours of delay by 2015 and seven hours by 2020.

By 2015, the cost of gridlock will rise from $101 billion to $133 billion per year — more than $900 for every commuter, and the amount of wasted fuel will jump from 1.9 billion gallons to 2.5 billion gallons — enough to fill more than 275,000 gasoline tanker trucks, the study found. 

“Congestion does more than choke our highways, it chokes our economy, making it harder to buy what we need and harder to keep or find a job,” Lomax said. “Thats a bad thing — especially when our economic recovery is so fragile.”

The report suggests several solutions, including traditional road building and transit use, combined with traffic management strategies such as signal coordination and rapid crash removal. Telecommuting and flexible work hours also can play a role in reducing traffic.

While theres no silver bullet to fixing the problem, the report suggests that answers will have to come from all involved.

“The solution mix may be different for each city, but the one thing they all share in common is urgency, Lomax said. “If we want a strong economy, doing nothing is not a productive option.”

Last week, chief executives of 20 major corporations called on Congress to pass a robust surface transportation bill, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, which have found some areas of agreement on the issue. 

“Business leaders from industries across the spectrum all agree that Congress must pass a strong multi-year surface transportation bill that adequately invests in America’s future,” Rahall said.