Nightly News   |  February 05, 2013

Traffic congestion comes at big cost, study says

Researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found Washington, D.C., has the worst traffic congestion in America, and the gridlock there (and in other locations) will only increase as the economy picks up steam. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> it's the way millions of us start our day, in traffic, often late, often aggravated, and wondering why it has to be this way. tonight, we have new numbers on exactly how bad the problem has become. how much time we spend in traffic. how much it costs us all. and what it's doing to our world. tom costello is with us tonight from one of the routinely worst spots in the nation, and, tom, what has happened in bethesda, maryland, behind you? it appears traffic is flowing.

>> yeah, well, you know, murphy's law, right? 20 seconds ago i swear it was a little more congested. but the transportation institute says that in some cities in this country, you need to add an extra hour, hour and a half, two hours to a 30-minute drive just to get there on time. rush hour in l.a.

>> we had a car that hit the guard rail .

>> reporter: and veteran traffic reporter jennifer york is on the air.

>> it's miserable. i mean i don't think there's really any good day anymore to get to where you need to go.

>> reporter: you name the city, you're bound to hear the same complaint.

>> i wish i could get that time back. time is money .

>> too many people driving, and not enough highway band width . that's the reason.

>> reporter: now, the list is out. the most congested city in america, washington. with commuters burning 67 hours and 32 gallons of fuel a year sitting in traffic. followed by l.a., san francisco , new york, boston, houston, atlanta, chicago, philly, and seattle. congestion costs each commuter about $818 per year. with each commuter responsible for about 380 pounds of carbon dioxide emission per year. and researchers predict gridlock will only worsen as the economy picks up.

>> what's really important now is for us to look at different strategies. now is really the time for us toability.

>> reporter: some cities are acting. improving traffic light timing, adding roundabouts and better highway flow patterns, installing light rail systems. in california, a $68 billion high speed rail corridor is under construction. while in portland, roughly 6% of commuters are now biking.

>> i think downtown has tried to decrease the appeal of driving.

>> reporter: but how appropriate that d.c. , known for political gridlock, also leads the country in traffic gridlock? local nbc reporter adam tufts has covered d.c. traffic for years.

>> the transportation is trying to build their way out of the gridlock. building more highway lanes, building more train lines and building more places that get people out of their cars.

>> reporter: a big challenge in a country that still loves its cars. researchers say if the trend continues by 2020 the price per person in this country per commuter will go from $800 a year to $1,000 a year. brian?

>> tom costello in bethesda, maryland, just outside d.c. thanks. just