-- Low fuel prices and economic stability are straining the country's roadways, leading to congestion that cost U.S. drivers nearly $300 billion in wasted gas and time last year, according to a new report released today.
Los Angeles had the worst traffic in the world among 1,064 cities studied by traffic analytics firm INRIX. L.A. also topped the Kirkland, Washington, firm’s list the year before.
On average, Los Angeles motorists spent about 104 hours stuck in traffic during the peak commuting hours of 2016, contributing to a loss of $2,408 per driver, or about $9.7 billion collectively, in wasted fuel and productivity, according to the firm’s Global Traffic Scorecard report.
That topped Moscow and New York, where drivers spent an average of 91 hours and 89 hours, respectively, sitting in gridlocked traffic.
Overall, U.S. cities accounted for half of the firm’s list of the top 10 most-congested areas worldwide, helped by cheaper U.S. gas prices and a buoyant economy, the report said.
"A stable U.S. economy, continued urbanization of major cities, and factors such as employment growth and low gas prices have all contributed to increased traffic in 2016," INRIX senior economist Bob Pishue said in a statement.
U.S. drivers spent an average of 42 hours a year in traffic during the busiest commuting hours of the year, costing them about $300 billion collectively, or about $1,400 per driver, in squandered gas and time last year, according to the report.
"Traffic truly is a double-edged sword," Pishue said, adding that he doesn't expect the global traffic situation to improve soon any time soon.
"The demand for driving is expected to continue to rise, while the supply of roadway will remain flat," Pishue said.
He recommends that governments use traffic data and technology to improve traffic flow as they explore new road projects and investments.
Separately, in a blog post Friday, INRIX Chief Economist Graham Cookson noted that the causes of congestion are specific to the city and road structures, but he also laid out a few ways that cities could address the problem.
"Congestion is bad for our wallets and our health, but in one sense it is a good problem to have,” Cookson said. “Roads are the arteries of the economy pumping people and goods around the country. Congestion is the symptom of a rich and prosperous economy."
Avoiding peak hour trips through remote working and encouraging the efficient use of our roads through wider adoption of road user pricing could help cities to better manage road demand, Cookson said.
He pointed to places like London as an example of a city that is using technology to improve traffic flow.
London invested nearly $4.3 billion to improve the roads there, according to the city's website.
As part of that initiative, the city placed sensors in 80 percent of the city's roads to detect real-time traffic conditions at junctions and optimize traffic light timings to reduce delays, Cookson noted in his blog post.
INRIX said it used anonymous and real-time GPS data to track traffic flows across 38 countries. It also utilized “market-specific criteria that affect traffic,” including construction and road closures, real-time incidents, sporting and entertainment events, weather forecasts and school schedules.