U.S. motorists set a new record for vehicle miles travelled (VMT) in 2016, driving over 3.2 trillion miles, an increase of 70 billion miles from 2015. VMT has long been on the rise, save for a dip during the recession. With so many vehicles on the road, it is no surprise that congestion has also been on the rise. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimated in 2014 that Americans spent 6.9 billion hours stuck in traffic due to congestion for an average of 42 hours per commuter. All of that sitting in traffic wasted 3.1 billion gallons of fuel. The lost time and wasted fuel add up—the total cost of congestion in 2014 was $160 billion. This is a substantial increase from 30 years prior when Americans lost 2.1 billion hours to congestion with an average of 20 hours per commuter and the total cost of congestion was only $48 billion (in 2014 dollars).
Investment is badly needed to repair America’s roadways and improve their performance (our highways and bridges have a $836 billion backlog), but adding building more road will not solve congestion on its own. With the U.S. population expected to grow by over 70 million by 2050, policymakers need to think plan ahead and think broadly to prevent congestion from paralyzing our roads. They should begin tackling congestion today through policies and technologies that maximize the capacity of the existing road network and by creating an integrated, multimodal transportation system that focuses on mobility for people and goods.