Washington Tops Los Angeles as U.S. Leader in Traffic Gridlock

Washington, D.C., commuters waste more time stuck in traffic than even those in Los Angeles as the improving economy increases congestion on U.S. roadways, according to an annual study by Texas A&M University.

Drivers in the U.S. capital and surrounding region spent an average of 67 hours in traffic in 2011, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report published today. By comparison, commuters in the Los Angeles metropolitan region wasted an average of 61 hours in traffic during the assessment period, the report said.

“Washington, D.C., does have essentially nonstop activity -- a lot of people driving into the city with the federal workforce, a lot of tourist activity, a lot of conventions,” Bill Eisele, a senior research engineer for the institute, said in a telephone interview. It also has an older road system that wasn’t designed for the current volume of traffic, he said.

Traffic jams in the largest U.S. cities are on the rise again after dipping in 2008 when the recession began. Along with wasted time and increased gasoline use and stress, congestion contributed 56 billion pounds of additional carbon dioxide emissions from idling cars in 2011, the study found.

The San Francisco-Oakland area tied with Los Angeles as the second-worst for wasted travel time, followed by the New York-Newark, New Jersey, area at 59 hours and metropolitan Boston at 53 hours, the study said.

There was a “slight uptick” in nationwide congestion in 2011, the latest survey period, said Eisele, co-author of the study. Cities must find additional ways to mitigate congestion as the rebounding economy brings further increases, he said.

Those steps include upgrades to existing roadways and public transportation improvements, the study said.

“Things are only going to get worse if we don’t act now,” Eisele said.

In a separate May 2012 study by Inrix Traffic Data, which is also the supplier of data for the institute’s survey, Honolulu-area drivers also had among the worst commutes in the nation, wasting an average of 58 hours annually, according to the Inrix National Traffic Scorecard.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.