There’s no rush left in rush hour: Americans spend more than 4 billion extra hours sitting in traffic every year, burning an extra 3 billion gallons of fuel and spending $78 billion in the process, according to a report released yesterday by Texas A&M University‘s Texas Transportation Institute.
The findings are sobering — and vexing. Consider that the average driver spends an extra 38 hours a year in traffic. In 1982, the figure was 14 hours. The contemporary commuter now wastes 26 gallons of fuel, almost three times the amount 25 years ago.
Some have it worse than others. Los Angeles is home to the worst traffic in the nation, where drivers sit in gridlock an extra 72 hours a year. The Washington metropolitan area, San Francisco/Oakland and Atlanta were tied for second, at 60 hours.
In last place, the annual delay for drivers in Brownsville, Texas, is a mere eight hours.
It’s jammed everywhere, however. Based on U.S. Department of Transportation statistics from 2005, the study found that traffic had increased 105 percent in the past two decades. The roads? They have increased only by 45 percent. That idyllic free-flowing traffic, in fact, is seen less than a third of the time in urban areas.
“Congestion is a problem in America’s 437 urban areas, and it is getting worse in regions of all sizes,” the study said, noting that the remedies concerned all of us — from federal and state agencies to businesses and commuters.
“There is no magic technology or solution on the horizon because there is no single cause of congestion,” said Tim Lomax, a transportation engineer and one of the study authors.
“Congestion is a far more complex problem than is apparent at first glance,” he said.
Competition between passenger and commercial vehicles on fewer roads is a big factor, as are myriad delays due to accidents, breakdowns, ill-timed signals and weather. Our commutes also have increased both in length and duration. Trip travel times now are “unreliable.”
Along with obvious solutions such as improving public transportation, bottlenecks and roads, the study suggested employers and motorists alike alter their driving patterns and consider flexible hours. The researchers also advised urban planners to emphasize designs that allow people to walk to work, play and shop.
Improving traffic woes in the nation’s eight major metropolitan areas — an estimated cost of $70 billion — would ultimately save drivers $540 billion a year in lower fuel costs and wasted time.
And about that monster rush hour. In earlier eras, morning and evening rush actually lasted from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Now the concentration of cars and irate drivers has expanded from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“The concept of ‘rush hour’ definitely does not apply to areas with more than 1 million people,” the study said. “Very few travelers are rushing anywhere.”