How Bad is Traffic Congestion in the United States?

joiseyshowaa/Flickr
joiseyshowaa/Flickr

It’s so bad, the average American spends the equivalent of about five vacation days sitting in traffic every year – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As it turns outs, the Great Recession had a silver lining – less traffic and less congested roads. Today, according to researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, employment is up and so is the number of commuters on the road:

“According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, travel delays due to traffic congestion caused drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and kept travelers stuck in their cars for nearly 7 billion extra hours – 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. The total nationwide price tag: $160 billion, or $960 per commuter.”

Of course, in some cities, people spend a lot more time inching along freeways. In Washington, D.C., drivers spend about 82 hours each year commuting; in Los Angeles, 80 hours; in San Francisco, 78 hours; and in New York, 74 hours. Across the nation, by 2020, commuter delays are expected to increase from 42 hours to 47 hours on average, raising the cost of congestion from $160 billion to $192 billion.

What’s to be done? Cities like Singapore, London, San Diego, Stockholm, and Milan have adopted “congestion pricing.” In San Diego, express toll-lanes allow drivers to bypass gridlocked free lanes, if they are willing to pay a fee. Other cities have cordon pricing. Drivers are charged a fee each time they enter a congested area, such as a city center. The state of Oregon is charging per mile driven (a system the state may use to replace fuel taxes in the future) and may begin to charge a higher rate for miles traveled during periods of congestion on heavily used roads.

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