Roads across the country were more congested with traffic in 2014 than they have been any year since 1982, according to a report released today by researchers at Texas A&M University's Transportation Institute.
That means the average driver spent 42 hours in traffic, and overall drivers burned through an extra 3.1 billion gallons of fuel while stuck in traffic. That compares to, in 1982, an average 18 hours spent in traffic and 500 million gallons of extra fuel.
The annual study checks levels of traffic congestion and how much time the average driver spends commuting. The study's authors said last year's traffic congestion and use of fuel could be linked to America's economic recovery since the 2008 financial crisis, which led to a drop in drivers on the road and fuel consumption.
“It follows the economic thread,” Bill Eisele, a senior researcher at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), told the Wall Street Journal. “There’s clearly this relationship that the higher congestion levels are a downside of this increase in economic activity.”
The researchers used traffic data from most major urban roads in the country, focusing on areas with populations of more than 500,000 people. They said that because of the extra fuel used by vehicles when they're stuck in traffic jams and the value of drivers' time wasted waiting, traffic congestion cost the U.S. $160 billion last year.
The report does not analyze how much the increase has contributed to air pollution or America's carbon emissions, but the increase in fuel usage alone contributes to a greater carbon footprint. The EPA tells us that fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel accounted for 26 percent of America's greenhouse gas emissions in 2013. Not only that, but traffic can have serious health consequences long-term for drivers, commuters, and anyone living near busy roads.
And the researchers say that, unless the problem is directly dealt with by improving road capacity and public transportation, as well as changing peoples' habits to travel less at peak hours, we will be in a worse situation by 2020. They expect that the average driver will spend 47 hours in traffic jams, and nationally we'll waste 3.8 billion gallons of fuel in those jams. From the report:
As the number of residents or jobs goes up in an improving economy, or the miles or trips that those people make increases, the road and transit systems also need to, in some combination, either expand or operate more efficiently. As the rising congestion levels in this report demonstrate, however, this is an infrequent occurrence. Travelers are not only paying the price for this inadequate response, but traffic congestion can also become a drain on further economic growth.