Urban road congestion made U.S. drivers buy 1.9 billion gallons of extra fuel last year and pay an extra $101 billion in total costs, including $23 billion for truck congestion.
Those calculations from the Texas Transportation Institute, in its latest Urban Mobility Report, show the overall congestion cost to drivers in 439 urban areas held steady from 2009. The TTI is a major U.S. transportation research agency, and part of the Texas A&M University System.
In its influential annual report, the group said government policymakers who decide on infrastructure investments “may have been distracted by the economy-based congestion reductions in the last few years.” The data, it said, “indicate the problem will not go away by itself – action is needed.”
The report comes as President Obama is pushing Congress to pass his infrastructure-heavy jobs plan, CEOs of major freight shippers also press for more transportation improvements as lawmakers have begun searching for ways to increase the revenue stream for federal surface transportation investments.
The TTI also said average out of pocket costs for automobile commuters, in lost time and extra fuel from getting caught on backed-up roads, fell to $713 in 2010 from $723 in 2009 and $814 in the 2005, before the economy began to slow ahead of the sharp recession.
Travel delays caused by congestion on streets and highways reached 4.8 billion hours both last year and in 2009, compared with 5.2 billion in 2005. But the institute warned “there is only a short-term cause for celebration” because congestion costs held steady. It said congestion levels at mid-decade were much worse than ten years ago, and “these conditions will return with a strengthening economy.”
The truck congestion cost estimate was down mildly from $24 billion in 2009, but that reflects just the expense of operating a truck on clogged roads without figuring extra costs for the cargo. Truckers pass on as much of those operating costs as they can, so shippers and ultimately consumers pay much of that extra $23 billion and pay it far away from the areas where the congestion snagged the trucks.
The institute said trucks account for just 6 percent of urban miles travelled but almost 26 percent of the congestion. And the group said when congestion causes trucks to miss scheduled arrivals, it can sometimes disrupt factory production and generate much higher costs to the supply chain.