U.S. Traffic Jams Spreading, Study Finds

Traffic jam

On average, Americans spent 47 hours stuck in traffic in 2003. Ten years earlier they were spending 40 hours a year. Aaron Kohr hide caption

itoggle caption Aaron Kohr

Delays Across the U.S.

Americans spent 3.7 billion hours in travel delays in 2003. Below, a look at how many hours the average driver spent stuck in traffic in 13 very large urban areas (3 million people or more):

  • Los Angeles: 93 hours
  • San Francisco: 72 hours
  • Washington, D.C., metropolitan area: 69 hours
  • Atlanta: 67 hours
  • Houston: 63 hours
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington region: 60 hours
  • Chicago: 58 hours
  • Detroit: 57 hours
  • Miami: 51 hours
  • Boston metropolitan area: 51 hours
  • New York metropolitan region: 49 hours
  • Phoenix: 49 hours
  • Philadelphia: 38 hours
  • Source: Texas Transportation Institute

Gridlock is getting worse because U.S. urban areas haven't added the road capacity needed to keep up with growing populations, according to a new study.

The Texas Transportation Institute reports that congestion delayed drivers 79 million more hours and wasted 69 million more gallons of fuel in 2003 than in 2002, the latest years studied.

But there's good news, too. According to study co-author David Shrank, it doesn't take a multi-million-dollar highway program or a new subway system to relieve congestion, although all of that helps. Smaller steps — such as ramp metering and coordinating traffic signals — also make a difference, cumulatively reducing delays by about 8 percent in the 85 urban areas tracked by the study.

In seven major cities U.S. cities — Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York, Houston and Philadelphia — the annual delay per rush-hour traveler actually went down slightly. But researchers say this doesn't necessarily mean traffic in these areas improved; it may simply reflect delays that have spread to the suburbs.

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