According to the report, congestion caused urban Americans to travel an extra 4.2 billion hours and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel for a congestion cost of $78 billion. On an annual basis, congestion-caused delays forced rush-hour or peak-period travelers to spend an extra 38 hours on the road in 2005. That’s an increase from 14 hours in 1982, the report noted.

According to the report, there a number of signs indicating that congestion is getting worse:

• Trips are taking longer.
• Estimating travel times is becoming more difficult.
• Congestion affects more hours of the day.
• Congestion affects weekend travel and rural areas.
• Congestion delays arrival of freight shipments around the United States.

In urban communities with more than 3 million population, the TTI estimated that the accumulated average annual delay per traveler due to traffic congestion is 54 hours. In urban areas with populations from 1 million to 3 million, the accumulated average annual delay per traveler is 37 hours.

In a press release responding to the TTI congestion report, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) lamented that the current state of traffic congestion could get worse.

“If you think the traffic congestion levels in the latest TTI report are grim ... the really bad news is that unless we start seriously adding new capacity to our road and transit systems now, 25 years from now our children and grandchildren will look back at today's level of traffic congestion as the ‘good old days,” the association said. “And they will be living in an America with a stagnant economy and declining quality of life.”

The ARBTA offered these numbers:

  • The U.S. population is projected to increase 68 million (23 percent), from today’s 301 million to 369 million in 2032.
  • The number of U.S. motor vehicles will increase more than 50 percent, from 250 million in 2007 to 392 million in 2032.
  • The Federal Highway Administration has predicted that the value of domestic freight shipments via truck will more than double between 2002 and 2035, increasing from $8.5 to $21.7 trillion.

No magic bullet

In its report, the TTI noted that there’s no miracle technology or policy that can solve the nation’s congestion problems. A few possible partial solutions, according to the report, include providing more high-occupancy toll lanes, offering motorists value (or congestion) pricing via tolls, adding road capacity, and relieving chokepoints.

Some say that privately funded toll roads could help expand the nation’s road capacity. But while revenue from tolls and public-private ventures may pay for the construction of as much as 50 percent of new expressways built in the United States over the next 10 years, it still will leave a major gap in needed road construction.

The executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has said that revenues from privately funded toll roads will account for only 10 percent of needed investment. AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley added that the revenues will be “vital to meeting national transportation needs.”

Some positive signs

There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, assuming that highway construction projects will help ease congestion. In its “2008 Construction Outlook,” McGraw-Hill Construction Research and Analytics predicted that highways and bridges likely will receive more funding when fiscal appropriations are approved for 2008. The ARBTA also is bullish on road construction projects in 2008.

“Highway and bridge construction should continue to be among the most stable of U.S. construction markets during 2008, showing modest year-on-year growth,” predicted Dr. William Buechner, ARTBA vice president of economics and research. “The value of construction work performed on highway and bridge projects will grow to just under $78 billion in 2008, representing a 3 to 4 percent increase over the estimated $75.5 billion during 2007. Equally important, recent signs that rapid inflation in the cost of highway construction materials is easing may allow the projected federal, state and local highway investment to support more projects in 2008.”