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Warning: This will make you want to honk, and maybe even kick and scream.
District-area drivers spend the most time in traffic of any urban center in the U.S., a new report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and INRIX, Inc., a traffic-data firm, finds. On average, they each sit for 82 hours per year on congested roads, edging out commuters in (Carmageddon-plagued) Los Angeles (80 hours), San Francisco (78 hours), New York (74 hours), and San Jose (67 hours). The D.C.-area delay amounts to $1,834 in congestion costs per person, 28 percent above the average congestion costs for “very large” urban areas: $1,433. (The report defines “congestion costs” as the value of travel-time delay plus excess fuel consumption.)
“Our growing traffic problem is too massive for any one entity to handle—state and local agencies can’t do it alone,” says Tim Lomax, a coauthor of the report. “Businesses can give their employees more flexibility in where, when and how they work, individual workers can adjust their commuting patterns, and we can have better thinking when it comes to long-term land use planning. This problem calls for a classic ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach.”
A deeper dive into the D.C.-specific data sheds light on some of the trends possibly behind the yearly delays. For one thing, the commuting population of the DC-VA-MD area has grown by more than 100,000 since 2010—from 1,717,000 to 1,838,000, an increase of seven percent—according to the report. Although daily vehicle-miles of travel on area freeways has stayed roughly the same since 2010, at around 39,000,000, cost components have gone up. The value of time, for example, rose more than a $1, to $17.67 per hour, while gasoline and diesel both jumped more than 30 cents a gallon. Those changes may seem small, but multiplied over millions of drivers, they can add up quickly.
Still, D.C.-area commuters aren’t alone in their struggles. The traffic report finds that congestion increased in 95 of the U.S.’s 100 largest metro areas between 2013 and 2014, compared with 61 such increases between 2012 and 2013. Last year, gridlock resulted in Americans driving almost 7 billion extra hours and buying 3 billion extra gallons of fuel ($160 billion in costs). A stronger economy than during the recession has led to more jobs—and thus more people driving to work. (Looking for a decent commuter city? Richmond, Va. and Bakersfield, Calif. fared well. So there’s that.)
“The best mobility improvement programs involve a mix of strategies—adding capacity of all kinds, operating the system to get the ‘best bang for the buck,’ travel and work schedule options and encouraging homes and jobs to be closer,” the report reads. “This involves everyone—agencies, businesses, manufacturers, commuters and travelers.”
In other words: If you drive to work every day, get ready for some road rage on your way home.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery