March 26, 2012 at 2:15 PM ET
Worsening road congestion is wasting plenty of time and money – especially when you consider the rising cost of gas.
A new study by the U.S. Treasury Department finds that traffic snarls wasted 1.9 billion gallons of fuel last year — about 5% of the gas American motorists used. At the current price, that would work out to more than $7 billion nationwide. Other recent studies have indicated that Americans collectively waste about 5 billion hours in traffic, meanwhile, which works out to billions of dollars more in lost productivity.
In all, the study – prepared in support of the White House effort to upgrade the nation’s highway infrastructure – suggests the total cost in time and money works out to about $100 billion a year.
The cost of poor quality roads, meanwhile, results in about $400 in added yearly maintenance costs for the typical urban driver. That runs as high as $756 annually for a motorist in the metropolitan San Jose areas, according to the report.
The Obama Administration is hoping that the report will hope get members of the House of Representatives to finally act on a federal highway bill that has been stalled on Capitol Hill. The Senate has already passed a two-year measure that will fund infrastructure and transportation programs – and allow the government to continue collecting federal fuel taxes.
House Republicans, however, have been pressing for a five-year, $260 billion measure – but it has so far failed to win enough support. If the House fails to act – or if the two sides of the Hill fail to come up with a compromise – before the end of the month all federal highway and transportation programs could come to a halt. Even fuel tax collection would be stopped. By some estimates, the impact could be as much as 2 million jobs.
House Speaker John Boehner has shifted his position to support the Senate measure but it is unclear whether he can sway enough of his fellow GOP lawmakers.
But there is growing pressure to reach that compromise.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, says the Treasury Department report is “the latest reminder that it’s time to stop the partisan bickering in Washington and invest in our nation’s infrastructure.”
The study reveals that:
The study also reports that the use of highway ridership soared to 10.4 billion paid trips last year, up from about 8 billion in 1996. The vast majority of that growth has come on light and heavy rail systems.
Ironically, the impact of traffic congestion might have been worse had it not been for the recession, which has seen millions of Americans thrown out of work. A separate study by Texas A&M University found that the number of hours Americans lost to traffic snarls slipped from a record 5.2 billion hours in 2007 – before the wholesale collapse of the economy – to just 4.6 billion the year after. The figure has only slowly been rising again as the economy recovers.
On a personal level, the study found the average American losing more than 30 hours annually to traffic congestion, with the figure rising to more than 70 hours in cities like L.A., Washington, D.C., and Chicago.