The Cost of Congestion

Not Stuck in Traffic
Definitely NOT Stuck in Traffic

Texas A&M’s 2010 Urban Mobility Report paints a grim picture of snarled traffic and wasted fuel in 439 urban centers in the U.S. Consider the following from the report:

In 2009, congestion (based on wasted time and fuel) cost about $115 billion in the 439 urban areas.

3.9 billion gallons of fuel were wasted in the 439 urban areas due to congestion. This amount of fuel would fill 78 super-tankers or 520,000 gasoline tank trucks. The average cost of congestion per auto commuter ranged from $1,166 in the Very Large population group to $436 in the Small population group.

The amount of wasted fuel per auto commuter ranges from 39 gallons per year in the Very Large urban areas to 16 gallons per year in the Small areas. Commuters of 97 areas are “paying” more than $1 per workday in congestion costs; 63 areas have a congestion value exceeding $2 per workday.

The average delay per auto commuter due to congestion in the 439 urban areas is 34 hours. There are 5 urban areas with delay per auto commuter values in excess of 50 hours, showing
the effect of the very large delays in the areas with populations larger than 1 million.

This data speaks for itself and makes a strong case for the increased use of public and active transportation (buses, trains, walking, and biking).

View the report

9 Responses to “The Cost of Congestion”

  • Brent says:

    I will say this: congestion is perhaps the most effective and politically acceptable traffic calming device I’ve seen.

  • Alan says:


    True enough! It’s hell on air quality though… :-(


  • Tweets that mention EcoVelo » Blog Archive » The Cost of Congestion -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nathan Hildebrand and Andy Friedlander, Wheelhouse Bikes. Wheelhouse Bikes said: Many monies being spent on Traffic Congestion!… […]

  • Fergie348 says:

    It’s pretty clear to me that the congestion ‘costs’ above normative averages were there not congestion are really pretty trivial. Most commuters wouldn’t think twice about paying an extra 1 – 2 dollars extra to ensure their comfort and convenience, which is essentially what solo driving does. Trivial to the individual commuter, that is. When taken in aggregate it looks pretty big, but that just shows you how much driving around we all do.

    Solving these sorts of problems will not be accomplished by mode shift alone, regardless of how effective and safe we make transit and bicycle/pedestrian facilities. Our entire value system and way of life must change. Gulp..

    Living in more densely populated communities would help. So would flex time schedules, more ‘remote workers’ in industries like mine (software development) that can be organized around it. Higher prices would also help, as would tax incentives to group up and do things collectively. Unfortunately, poverty and joblessness also help reduce congestion. The best thing to happen to transportation in the last 2 years is the global recession that has caused so much pain and dislocation.

    What worries me is what will we do, how will we change when times get good again and most people’s lives are more prosperous and we feel like we can expand our horizons a bit? My fear is that we will go back to our old patterns and nothing will really change until the non-sustainability of those choices causes a hard break between the lives of the wealthy and the lives of the rest of us. Then our republic will truly be at risk of destroying itself.

  • CedarWood says:

    Congestion — the most convincing reason for SUV-driving governmental types to approve bike lanes… not grumpy ;)

  • Alan says:


    It’s pretty daunting, for sure. That said, it’s perfectly clear what each of us as individuals can do to contribute to the solution, and the most important thing is to get on with doing it! :-)


  • Doug P says:

    I read somewhere the average speed on Calif. freeways is 22.5MPH. The trick is convincing the average car commuter that car commuting will be faster and cost less if we invest in public transportation. I would like public transport planners to consider “hybrid” transport systems. For example, put a monorail on the freeway with stations at the onramps, where the land has already been purchased, and where the infrastructure is in place. “Stand alone” public transport sounds enticing, but runs counter to established societal norms in the US.

  • Richard Masoner says:

    True enough! It’s hell on air quality though… :-(

    So Rob Anderson’s lawsuit against San Francisco’s bike plan — which was based on the premise that more bike facilities = more congestion = reduced air quality — had merit after all! ;-)

  • Richard Masoner says:

    @Doug writes: “The trick is convincing the average car commuter that car commuting will be faster and cost less if we invest in public transportation.

    Caltrain transports about 37,000 passengers each weekday up and down the San Francisco Peninsula. That’s equivalent to 2 extra lanes of traffic on the already congested Highway 101, but Bay Area letters to the editor complain about rail commuters as “freeloaders” as the area deals with Caltrain funding shortfalls.

© 2011 EcoVelo™