Fuel prices that began rising at the end of 2007 helped ease the nation’s congestion slightly, according to the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Urban Mobility Report, released on July 8. The popular report found that, as a result, time wasted for the average commuter was cut by about one hour. Even so, most rush-hour travelers still spend nearly a full work week stuck in traffic each year.
Researchers Tim Lomax and David Schrank conduct the study, which has been analyzing the nation’s congestion since 1982. The Urban Mobility Report determines the annual delay per traveler and the amount and cost of fuel that’s wasted. In 2007, American commuters wasted 2.8 billion gallons of fuel for a total congestion cost of $87.2 billion, or $760 per traveler.
The nation’s 439 urban areas are studied — the top 90 locations are ranked in order of congestion, from Los Angeles, California, to Wichita, Kansas. Commuters wasted the most time in traffic in the following regions:
- Los Angeles – Long Beach – Santa Ana, California;
- Washington D.C. – Virginia – Maryland;
- Atlanta, Georgia;
- Houston, Texas;
- San Francisco – Oakland, California;
- Dallas – Fort Worth – Arlington, Texas;
- San Jose, California;
- Orlando, Florida;
- Detroit, Michigan; and
- San Diego, California.
“Chances are, most commuters did not notice the slight decrease in congestion from 2006 to 2007,” says Schrank. “However, we think the recession will have more of an impact on rush hour in some hard-hit areas.” Schrank and Lomax believe that overall congestion in 2008 and 2009 may also show a decline as a result of the economic downturn. However, they warn that any congestion relief as a result of the recession will end as the economy improves.
“Historically, when the economy rebounds after a downturn, so does the traffic problem,” Lomax points out. “But a lot of it may hinge on the price of gasoline at the time.”
The 2009 Urban Mobility Report was front-page news across the country. About 750 television and radio broadcasts and newspaper articles were aired or written on the report.
“Getting the word out to all the media is a major task,” says TTI Director of Communications Richard Cole.
Months before it is released, reporters from across the country inquire about the issue date of the Urban Mobility Report. For months following, the report is cited by reporters when their stories focus on traffic and transportation.
Sponsors for the 2009 Urban Mobility Report were the University Transportation Center for Mobility at Texas A&M University, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association – Transportation Development Foundation, the American Public Transportation Association and TTI.