A report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute indicates that the average automobile commuter nationwide lost more than 54 hours — more than a week’s vacation — to sitting in ever-worsening traffic in 2017. The figure in 1982 was 20 hours.
In the Bryan-College Station metro area, commuters lost about 32 hours per year to traffic congestion in 2017. That figure is not total time spent in a vehicle, but the average added time beyond what a trip would take without traffic.
Tim Lomax, a TTI Regents Fellow who with Institute researchers Bill Eisele and David Schrank coauthored the 2019 Urban Mobility Report, said the 2017 estimate is nearly double what researchers estimated a few years ago, when the data didn’t include actual speed counts.
“We’re at about half of what Austin is, but 32 hours is four vacation days of just sitting extra in traffic,” Lomax said.
The report, which was released Thursday, collected traffic data nationwide from 494 metro areas in 2017. The report said that the average commuter in 2017 wasted 21 gallons of fuel — a week’s worth for the average U.S. driver — up from five gallons in 1982.
Locally there is “a total of $114 million in costs related to traffic, or about $650 per auto commuter,” Lomax said earlier this week.
He added that residents of an area build their perceptions of their area’s traffic challenges not just on time spent in traffic, but also changes over time. For example, unlike in a large metro area such as Denver, many B-CS residents have traditionally not expected traffic challenges except in specific circumstances such as sporting events, he said. Those expectations are changing.
“We’ve seen in the data that traffic congestion has gotten worse certainly around the university, but also just in town with all the things that come with a giant employer getting much bigger,” Lomax said.
The 32 hours of time B-CS drivers lost outpaces the average of 19 hours Waco commuters lost to traffic. Drivers in Conroe and The Woodlands lost an average of 29 hours in 2017.
The report said that about 30% of delays occur in off-peak hours in big metro areas, a figure that rises to 40% in smaller regions. It also said that freeway congestion is a smaller issue in areas under 1 million population — about a third of delay in medium and small regions is on freeways. Just under 225,000 people live in Brazos County
The report’s data shows that Houston commuters face the worst traffic in the state, with commuters losing about 75 hours per year beyond expected travel times. Austin commuters lost 66 hours per year in 2017, while Dallas-Fort Worth commuters lost 67 hours.
Los Angeles commuters on average lost 119 hours in 2017, the most in the country. Drivers in the California Bay Area lost 103 hours, with drivers in the Washington, D.C., area losing 102 hours.
Lomax said the economy’s strength — particularly the unemployment rate — impacts traffic rates.
“We saw a pretty dramatic traffic drop during the recession,” Lomax said. “And that’s come back nationally. In Texas, we didn’t really feel that drop very much because we were ‘afflicted’ with a good economy, so in a traffic sense, we didn’t get the two- or three-year vacation that a lot of people did.”
Lomax said that many researchers and pundits had expectations on the heels of the 2008 recession that traffic congestion would lessen due to a number of trends, including ride sharing, carpooling and millennials’ increasing desire to use cars sparingly and live downtown in major metro areas.
“It’s clear that we’ve seen some of that, but it’s also clear that millennials didn’t want to have a car when they couldn’t get a job or afford a car — which sounds pretty rational,” Lomax said. “Now that the economy has come back, more of them have full-time jobs, and so there is some of that, but that won’t be our savior in a congestion sense.”
According to the report, researchers advocate a number of solutions to worsening traffic, signal timing for lights, including reducing demand on roads where possible through telecommuting and other remote work setups, adjusting work hours when possible, and land-use shifts.