Once again, the Washington area has earned the dubious distinction of having the worst traffic congestion in the United States, according to the 2012 Urban Mobility Report, released today by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Local commuters here spend 67 hours per year stuck in traffic, more than Americans living in 498 other urban areas, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston -- the four runners-up.
Being No. 1 carries a high price tag: According to TTI, D.C.-area commuters waste 32 gallons of gas and pay $1,398 per year in congestion-related costs.
In practically every system performance category measured by the study, traffic congestion has gotten worse here over the past decade. In 2002, 80 percent of peak vehicle miles traveled were under congested conditions; now it's 85 percent. And "rush hour" in D.C. now stretches to seven hours per day.
TTI's Freeway Planning Time Index measures the amount of extra travel time a person or company must allocate in order to arrive on time for high-priority events, such as catching a plane, delivering a critical shipment, or arriving at a medical appointment or social event. Washington ranks in the 95th percentile. A half-hour trip that would take nine extra minutes during rush hour in Pensacola, Fla., takes three hours here.
Such travel time uncertainty serves as a huge drag on the local economy, forcing individuals and businesses to waste otherwise productive time. Transit ridership here is less than 10 percent, and TTI forecasts that biking, walking, working or shopping at home "will continue at the same rate," so the vast majority of future trips will still be made in private automobiles.
Yet state and local officials are still not making congestion relief a top priority, opting to spend a disproportional amount of available resources on transit projects that do little or nothing to reduce it. Since "stop-and-go roads only carry half to two-thirds of the vehicles as a smoothly flowing road," according to the study, figuring out how to keep traffic moving is an urgent regionwide problem, yet the solution continues to evade those elected to solve it.
Meanwhile, the cost of congestion nationwide is expected to surge from $121 billion -- more than the U.S. Department of Transportation's entire annual budget -- to $199 billion in 2020. That's all going up in smoke.