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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 65 · No. 2 > Editor's Notes

Sept/Oct 2001
Vol. 65 · No. 2

Editor's Notes

Traffic Congestion Is Putting the Brakes on Economic Growth

The following observations and statistics are from Stuck in Traffic: How Increasing Traffic Congestion Is Putting the Brakes on Economic Growth, a May 2001 report by The Road Information Program (TRIP). The information that TRIP used in the preparation of this report was provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, Cass Information Services Inc., the Transportation Research Board, and the Texas Transportation Institute.

TRIP is a nonprofit organization sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, highway engineering and construction firms, financial organizations, labor unions, and others concerned with an efficient and safe highway transportation network.

The report states that congestion slows the delivery of goods and services, leading to increased costs for consumers, and it cites the following points to link efficient surface transportation and economic growth:

  • 84 percent of all goods shipped from sites nationwide travels by road — 72 percent on trucks and 12 percent by courier services.
  • The increasing use of "just-in-time" delivery techniques has turned trucks into rolling warehouses and has made businesses very dependent on the reliable movement of goods in and out of urban areas.
  • From 1980 to 2000, our nation's gross domestic product increased by 86 percent and highway travel increased by 76 percent — with the two showing similar rates of increase year by year.
  • A DOT report says that for each dollar spent on road construction, the overall economic benefit is $5.70
  • The key finding of report is that congestion is getting worse and it diminishes our economic competitiveness with the rest of the world:
  • Urban traffic congestion costs the nation $78 billion in wasted fuel and lost time. The cost of traffic congestion per person per year is $625 and has increased 39 percent since 1990 (when adjusted for inflation). The average vehicle trip in the nation's urban areas takes, on average, 32 percent longer than a trip taken during a non-peak period.
  • Commercial truck travel increased by more than 37 percent from 1990 to 1999, and 82 percent of the anticipated new shipments (doubling in volume by 2020) will be by trucks that will travel over an increasingly congested road system.
  • Traffic delays per person caused by traffic congestion increased by 236 percent from 1982 to 2000, while highway travel increased by 72 percent and the nation's population grew by 19 percent. Since 1982, the increase in highway travel has been 10 times greater than the increase in highway capacity.
  • The report concludes that the best way to relieve traffic congestion is through a comprehensive set of strategies that should include expanding the capacity of key streets and highways, improving transit service, expanding walking and bicycling facilities, encouraging alternatives to driving alone during rush hour, and improved community-based planning. Sounds like what FHWA has been saying and working toward for a long time.

Bob Bryant


United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration