Demand for highway travel by Americans continues to grow as population increases, particularly in metropolitan areas. Construction of new highway capacity to accommodate this growth in travel has not kept pace. Between 1980 and 1999, route miles of highways increased 1.5 percent while vehicle miles of travel increased 76 percent. The Texas Transportation Institute estimates that, in 2011, congestion in 498 metropolitan areas caused urban Americans to travel 5.5 billion hours more and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel for a congestion cost of $121 billion. (Source: 2012 Urban Mobility Report, TTI). The volume of freight movement alone is forecast to nearly double by 2020. Congestion is largely thought of as a big city problem, but delays are becoming increasingly common in small cities and some rural areas as well.
Congestion results when traffic demand approaches or exceeds the available capacity of the system. While this is a simple concept, it is not constant. Traffic demands vary significantly depending on the season of the year, the day of the week, and even the time of day. Also, the capacity, often mistaken as constant, can change because of weather, work zones, traffic incidents, or other non-recurring events.
FHWA Focuses on Congestion Relief
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is focusing on a number of high-priority efforts to help reduce congestion on the nation's highways. Together, these efforts provide information that allows more informed decisions, better coordination and quick action that help avoid and reduce traffic congestion. See more information on these and other strategies in the Congestion Reduction Toolbox.
Tolling and Pricing—Value pricing entails fees or tolls for road use which vary by level of vehicle demand on the facility. Fees are typically assessed electronically to eliminate delays associated with manual toll collection facilities.
Public Private Partnerships—"Public-private partnerships" (PPP) refer to contractual agreements between a public agency and private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery of transportation projects. FHWA is working with our partners in the public and private sector to further investigate these promising partnerships.
Real-Time Traveler Information—Real time travel information is "decision-quality" information that travelers can access, understand and act on to choose the most efficient mode and route to their final destination. Timely and detailed information about traffic incidents, the weather, construction activities, transit and special events, all aid in improving travel time predictability, better choices and reduced congestion.
Traffic Incident Management—Traffic incident management is a combination of public safety functions and traffic management functions–it requires cooperation between various public agencies to reduce congestion by clearing traffic crashes and removing stalled vehicles. FHWA is championing laws, policies and practices that speed up the clearance of major and minor incidents that create congestion.
Work Zone Mobility and Highways for LIFE—The Work Zone Safety and Mobility Rule advocates stronger consideration and management of work zone safety and mobility impacts to reduce congestion during construction projects. The Highways for Long-lasting, Innovative, Fast construction of Efficient (also known as HfL) and safe pavements and bridges pilot program as outlined in SAFETEA-LU is meant to accelerate the rate of adoption of innovations and technologies, thereby improving safety and highway quality while reducing congestion caused by construction.
Traffic Signal Timing—Signal timing should correspond to the current traffic patterns. Often signals are initially timed, but not re-adjusted when traffic patterns change. This results in inefficiency and unnecessary delays. Goal: work with state and local agencies in congested metropolitan areas and encourage best practices for improved traffic signal timing.
More Congestion Relief Links
To see the full range of Congestion Reduction tools, visit the Congestion Reduction Toolbox. For links to related FHWA Program Offices, visit the Links page. For contact information within the FHWA offices, visit the Contacts page. For links to congestion reduction-related web sites for every state, visit the Information By State page.
FHWA has produced a number of reports in its Urban Congestion Trends series.
To view PDF files, you need the Adobe Acrobat Reader.
- 2012 Urban Congestion Trends – Operations: The Key to Reliable Travel (2013) HTML, PDF.
- 2011 Urban Congestion Trends: Improving Travel Reliability with Operations (2012) HTML, PDF.
- 2010 Urban Congestion Trends: Enhancing System Reliability with Operations (2011) HTML, PDF.
- 2009 Urban Congestion Trends: How Operations is Solving Congestion Problems (2010) HTML, PDF.
- Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Trends and Advanced Strategies for Congestion Mitigation (2005) HTML, PDF.
- Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Linking Solutions to Problems (2004) HTML, PDF.