Bottlenecks are no bueno. And according to a new report from the American Highway Users Alliance, they do more than make you late for work: they have a negative effect on the U.S. economy, kill the environment, and make you sick in the process. The report, cleverly titled “Unclogging Americas Arteries,” investigates the causes of chronic traffic bottlenecks and lists the 50 worst congestion areas in the U.S., along with 47 other trouble spots.
Chicago-area commuters, or really anyone who’s ever tried to get to O’Hare on a tight schedule, won’t be surprised with the bottleneck that takes the number-one spot: a 12-mile stretch on I-90 between Roosevelt Road and N. Nagle Avenue. The total number of lost hours per year in that section alone adds up to 16.9 million, resulting in $418 million in lost productivity and 6.37 million wasted gallons of fuel.
California is another huge place for bottlenecks, with six of the top ten found in L.A — surprising no one who lives in greater Los Angeles.
Some more sobering statistics about the nationwide impact of traffic congestion: It costs the U.S. economy $2.4 billion annually and causes 91 million hours of delay, or 45,500 person-work years, for drivers. “[Bottlenecks are] getting worse over time,” American Highway Users Alliance’s Greg Cohen told CBS news. “Certainly between 1982 and today, there’s a lot of studies that show the traffic that was just once in L.A. is now worse than what L.A. was like back then in dozens of cities around the country.”
So what can be done about the bottlenecks? Well, since the problem is insufficient capacity, rather than, say, construction work or inclement weather, the capacity issues have to be addressed. Construction to fix the problem of congestion is a great solution for the long-term, but, as the report states, “limited resources and immediate demands often require solutions centered on maximizing the efficiency of existing infrastructure.”
Which means improving information and communications systems to alert drivers of alternate routes around congestion, relying on increasingly-sophisticated navigational systems, and increasing freeway ramp metering.
The improvements might not come cheap, but the benefits will far outweigh the costs. In 20 years, the report predicts, $39 billion 2012 U.S. could be saved, along with 830 million gallons of fuel, 17 billion pounds of CO2 emissions, and 211,000 avoided traffic accidents.
It might not be a reality quite yet, but at least it’s something to keep in mind when you’re stuck in traffic on your drive home this Thanksgiving weekend. (And also, be thankful you’re not involved in this bottleneck.)