David Schrank and Tim Lomax, authors of the 2005 Urban Mobility Report

Texas Transportation Institute
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Urban traffic congestion costs
the USA $63 billion per annum

A report by the Texas Transportation Institute

14 September 2004: Congestion continues to grow in urban areas of the US. Despite a slow growth in jobs and travel in 2003, congestion caused 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 8.7 billion litres of wasted fuel, an increase of 79 million hours and 262 million litres from 2002 to a total cost of more than $63 billion for the year. The solutions to this problem will require commitment by the public and by national, state and local officials to increase investment levels and identify projects, programs and policies that can achieve mobility goals.

The 2005 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute shows that the current pace of transportation improvement, however, is not sufficient to keep pace with even a slow growth in travel demands in most major urban areas.

According to the report, the problem can be stated simply: urban areas are not adding enough capacity, improving operations or managing demand well enough to keep congestion from growing larger. Over the most recent three years, the contribution of operations improvements has grown from 260 to 340 million hours of congestion relief, but delay has increased by 300 million hours over the same period. Congestion occurs during longer portions of the day and delays more travelers and goods than ever before. And if the current fuel prices are used, the congestion ‘invoice’ climbs another $1.7 billion, which would bring the total cost to about $65 billion per year.

Mobility problems have increased at a relatively consistent rate during the two decades studied. Congestion is present on more of the transportation systems, affecting more of the trips and a greater portion of the average week in urban areas of all sizes.

Congestion affects more of the roads, trips and time of day. The worst congestion levels increased from 12 per cent to 40 per cent of peak period travel. And free-flowing travel is less than half of the amount in 1982.

Congestion has grown in areas of every size. Measures in all of the population size categories show more severe congestion that lasts a longer period of time and affects more of the transportation network in 2003 than in 1982. The average annual delay for every person using motorized travel in the peak periods in the 85 urban areas studied climbed from 16 hours in 1982 to 47 hours in 2003. Delay statistics point to the importance of action. Major projects, programs and funding efforts take 10 to 15 years to develop. In that time, congestion endured by travelers and businesses grow to those of the next largest population group. So in ten years, medium-sized regions will have the traffic problems that large areas have now, if trends do not change.

Congestion costs are increasing. The total congestion ‘invoice’ for the 85 areas in 2003 was approximately $63 billion, an increase from about $62 billion in 2002. The 3.7 billion hours of delay and 2.3 billion gallons of fuel consumed due to congestion are only the elements that are easiest to estimate. The effect of uncertain or longer delivery times, missed meetings, business relocations and other congestion results are not included.

Congestion is more severe in larger areas. It is not surprising that congestion is more severe in larger urban areas. What might not be expected is the large range of values. Congestion problems occur in many ways. Some congestion is determined by the design of an area, some is determined by geographic features, weather, collisions and vehicle breakdowns, and some congestion is the result of decisions about investment levels. Likewise, the mobility levels targeted by agencies in each area will vary as well. The answer is not to grade every city, every project and every hour of delay on the same scale, but rather to identify the community goals, benefits, and costs and decide how to reach the mobility targets.

More capacity
More road and public transportation improvement projects are part of the equation. New streets and urban freeways will be needed to serve new developments; public transportation improvements are particularly important in congested corridors and to serve major activity centers; and, toll highways and toll lanes are being used more frequently in urban corridors. Capacity expansions are also important additions for freewayto- freeway interchanges and connections to ports, rail yards, intermodal terminals and other major activity centers for people and freight transportation.   

Greater efficiency
More efficient operation of roads and public transportation can provide more productivity from the existing system at relatively low cost. Some of these can be accelerated by information technology, some are the result of educating travelers about their options, and some are the result of providing a more diverse set of travel and development options than are currently available. This report presents information on the effect of five prominent operational treatments.

Manage the demand
The way that travelers use the transportation network can be modified to accommodate more demand. Using the telephone or internet for certain trips, traveling in off-peak hours and using public transportation and carpools are examples. Projects that use tolls or pricing incentives can be tailored to meet both transportation needs and economic equity concerns. The key will be to provide better conditions and more travel options for shopping, school, health care and a variety of other activities.   

Development patterns
There are a variety of techniques that are being tested in urban areas to change the way that commercial, office and residential developments occur. These also appear to be part, but not all, of the solution. Sustaining the urban “quality of life” and gaining an increment of economic development without the typical increment of mobility decline is one way to state this goal.

Realistic expectations
are also part of the solution. Large urban areas will be congested. Some locations near key activity centers in smaller urban areas will also be congested. But congestion does not have to be an all-day event. Identifying solutions and funding sources that meet a variety of community goals is challenging enough without attempting to eliminate congestion in all locations. The solutions will vary not only by the state or city they are implemented in, but also by the type of development, the level of activity and constraints in particular sub-regions, neighborhoods and activity centers. Portions of a city might be more amenable to construction solutions, other areas might use more demand management, efficiency improvements and land use pattern or redevelopment solutions.

Public Transportation Service
Regular route public transportation service on buses and trains provides a significant amount of peak period travel in the most congested corridors and urban areas in the U.S. If public transportation service was discontinued and the riders traveled in private vehicles, the 85 urban areas would have suffered an additional 1.1 billion hours of delay in 2003.

Public transportation service provides many additional benefits in the corridors and areas it serves. Access to jobs, shops, medical, school and other destinations for those who do not have access to private transportation may provide more societal benefits than the congestion relief, but this report only examined part of the mobility aspect. The Very Large areas would experience an increase in delay of about 920 million hours per year (33 per cent of total delay) if there were no public transportation service. Most of the urban areas over 3 million population have significant public transportation ridership, extensive rail systems and very large bus systems.   The Large urban areas would experience the second largest increase in delay with about 150 million additional hours of delay per year (16 percent of today delay) if public transportation service were not available.

Other Actions
Most large city transportation agencies are pursuing a variety of strategies. The mix of programs, policies and projects may be different in each city and the pace of implementation varies according to overall funding, commitment, location of problems, public support and other factors. It also seems that big city residents should expect congestion for one or two hours in the morning and in the evening. The agencies should be able to improve the performance and reliability of the service at other hours and they may be able to slow the growth of congestion, but they cannot expand the system or improve the operation rapidly enough to eliminate congestion.


Congestion in the US has grown in towns and cities of all sizes

Introducing the Texas Transportation Institute
The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) is an official research agency for the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Railroad Commission. TTI works closely with many state and federal agencies as well as the private sector to improve the safety and efficiency of the transportation system.

TTI employs about 570 people - 275 professionals, 105 support staff and 190 students, divided about evenly between graduate and undergraduate students. About 45 members of the TTI professional staff hold joint academic appointments.

Dedicated to enhancing the economic competitiveness of the state and improving the quality of life for Texans, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) is the largest university-affiliated transportation research agency in the United States. Created in 1950 in response to the needs of the Texas Highway Department, TTI has since broadened its focus to address all modes of transportation - highway, air, water, rail and pipeline. TTI is a state agency and a member of The Texas A&M University System.

Through a program of practical, applied research, TTI helps a wide variety of sponsors address a range of transportation challenges. For example, through decades of research in just the highway area - planning, design, construction, maintenance, safety and operations - virtually every mile of roadway in Texas has been positively impacted by some aspect of the TTI program. Through research, development and technology transfer, TTI is helping to meet the transportation needs of tomorrow.