America's Most Congested Highways

Recession Was Good for Traffic

The bad news for drivers: the 30 percent drop in congestion that began in late 2007 or early 2008 is over. Traffic in 2009 leveled off. Now the question is: with low gas prices and more people working, it's hoped, as the economy recovers, will traffic worsen in 2010 or 2011?

"The severe recession and associated job loss has turned back the clock on congestion to levels likely last seen in 2004 or 2005. What happens in 2010 and beyond to congestion will largely be shaped by the rate and pace of economic recovery, in particular the rate -- or lack thereof -- of job growth on a regional and national scale," Schuman and his colleagues wrote in the report.

Because of congestion, Americans spend 8.9 percent longer in their cars than they would without traffic. So on a one-way, 30-minute commute, that would be an extra 2 minutes and 40 seconds. That might not sound like much, but over the course of a year it's an extra 22 hours spent commuting.

The length of the morning commute was actually down in 2009, but that was canceled out by a longer drive during the evening commute. One interesting note is that stimulus construction projects increased off-peak congestion by 25 percent over 2008.

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