The Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI‘s) 20th Urban Mobility Report (UMR) presents the most accurate picture yet of how much time commuters in 439 metropolitan areas spend in traffic and how much that congestion costs. Released Jan. 20, the report uses GPS-enabled vehicles and mobile devices to monitor traffic speeds with data from INRIX, a leading private-sector provider of traffic information.
“The recent TTI-INRIX collaboration took much of the estimation out of calculating congestion because the data reflect the actual speeds of vehicles,” notes TTI Research Engineer Tim Lomax, lead author of the UMR. “Knowing exactly how fast traffic is moving, we can calculate delays fairly easily with precision not available before.”
The report shows a drop in congestion from 2006 to 2007 and then, as expected, a slight increase in 2009 — thanks to a slowly improving economy and lower gasoline prices.
Researchers determined that the cumulative cost of 2009 congestion was $115 billion in wasted time and fuel. That’s $808 for each of us, on average.
“This year’s report is a remarkable game changer,” TTI Associate Research Scientist David Schrank explains. “The new data address the biggest shortcoming of previous reports. The data show conditions for every day of the year and include the effect of weather problems, traffic crashes, special events, holidays, work zones and other factors directly impacting traffic flow.”
As in past years, Lomax, Schrank and TTI Senior Research Engineer Shawn Turner handled a barrage of media inquiries from across the country. Nearly 400 newspapers, 60 television stations (including CNN and NBC) and dozens of radio stations printed or aired stories on the findings.
“It is about building more roads and public transportation,” Turner explains. “But it’s also about managing what we have more efficiently, providing more and better information to commuters, and coordinating transportation investments and land use so that people aren’t forced to drive everywhere for basic everyday services.”
The report recommends a balanced and diversified approach to reducing traffic congestion, including the following strategies:
- Get as much use as possible out of the existing transportation system.
- Add roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it’s needed most.
- Change our travel patterns, employing ideas like ridesharing and flexible work times to avoid traditional “rush hours.”
- Provide more choices, such as alternate routes, telecommuting and toll lanes to facilitate faster, more reliable trips.
- Diversify land-development patterns to make walking, biking and mass transit more practical.
The report determined that public transportation services and the use of roadway operational treatments like incident management programs, advanced traveler information and freeway ramp metering reduced congestion by more than 1 billion hours of delay and saved more than 900 million gallons of fuel. Those two factors alone accounted for a congestion-cost savings of $25 billion in 2009.
The presidents of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) were quoted in a Washington Post story. Both associations are sponsors of the UMR.
“There is no doubt that expanding public transportation use is the key to reducing traffic congestion,” APTA President William Millar said.
ARTBA President and CEO Pete Ruane noted, “The report makes one thing crystal clear. The failure of elected leaders at all levels of government to adequately invest in transportation improvements is taking an alarming toll on American families and businesses.”