The Costs of Highway Congestion

ByABC News
February 15, 2001, 10:22 AM

N E W   Y O R K, Feb. 15 -- Highway construction is booming across America, and the federal government is pouring money into roadwork like never before $162 billion over the next six years. So how come we're all sitting in so much traffic these days?

Congestion is the worst it has ever been. Statistics tell an alarming story: Americans spend 14.5 million hours every day stuck in traffic, trying to commute or move goods to market.

They also spend an estimated $23 billion a year, or $126 per motorist, on.vehicle repairs and operating costs incurred because of poorly maintained roads.

There are also terrible human costs: The Federal Highway Administration blames bad road design and conditions for 30 percent of highway fatalities. And idling cars and trucks emit environmentally unfriendly gases at an alarming rate.

Other statistics are just as damning. Consider that since 1970: The U.S. population has grown by 32 percent, while The number of licensed drivers has grown by 64 percent, The number of registered vehicles has grown by 90 percent, and The vehicle miles traveled has grown by 131 percent. However, Total number of road miles has grown by only 6 percent.

"What you have is essentially more people driving more vehicles more miles on about the same-sized road system [as existed 30 years ago]," says William Fay, president and CEO of the American Highway Users Alliance, a transportation advocacy group based in Washington. "You can start to see why we're falling short and winding up with a lot more traffic congestion."

Time Is Definitely On Their Side

The Annual Mobility Report released by the Texas Transportation Institute tracks the costs of traffic immobility. In its latest study it reported that travelers in 68 urban areas spent more than $72 billion in lost time and wasted fuel, or about $755 annually per driver. That's more than the cost of auto insurance in many places.

For example, when calculating commute times during peak periods in urban areas, the number of hours lost due to congestion above the roadway's normal capacity is a measure of how ill-suited the roads are to delivering people to and from their destinations. For a Los Angeleno, those three days' worth of congestion could have been spent at the beach if there were a place to park.