Traffic Congestion: Bigger and Badder Than Ever

The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University released it’s most recent annual report on the state of urban traffic congestion in the U.S., and the results are pretty clear: Congestion is coming back with a vengeance. The 2011 Urban Mobility Report notes that traffic congestion experienced a lull during the recession. But, as the economy begins to rejuvenate, congestion will come back and be worse than ever:

“The economic recession has only provided a temporary respite from the growing congestion problem. When the economic growth returns, the average commuter is estimated to see an additional 3 hours of delay by 2015 and 7 hours by 2020. By 2015, the cost of gridlock will rise from $101 billion to $133 billion — more than $900 for every commuter, and the amount of wasted fuel will jump from 1.9 billion gallons to 2.5 billion gallons — enough to fill more than 275,000 gasoline tanker trucks.”

The reason is quite simple, even if missed by the mainstream media: The general public hasn’t lost its appetite for mobility. The recession only curbed our ability to obtain mobility in the short term. In economic jargon, lower incomes may have reduced our willingness to consume mobility (drive more), but our utility curve (fundamental preferences) haven’t changed at all. Once our income rebounds, we will once again take advantage of mobility afforded by the automobile.

Notably, the Texas Transportation Institute emphasizes again that the solutions include building roads on pace with rising demand, providing public transit, demand management (not demand reduction), and road network optimization are the keys to success.

Of course, Reason Foundation has been in the forefront of these discussions. For an analysis of the broader problem and issues, including how mobility is essential to contemporary economies, see David Hartgen’s policy study Gridlock and Growth: the Impact of Traffic Congstion on Regional Economic Performance and our book Mobiltiy First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century. Also, our more nuts & bolts book The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It is highly relevant (and includes a solutions check list).