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ATRI congestion report: costs in 2013 reached $9.209 billion

The American Transportation Research Institute study noted that delays totaled 141 million hours, equating to more than 51,000 drivers sitting idle for one working year and that congestion in the nation’s urban areas accounted for 89 percent of costs on 12 percent of interstate highway mileage. (Courtesy: ATRI).

The Trucker News Services

5/1/2014

WASHINGTON — The American Transportation Research Institute has released its annual report on the cost of congestion on the nation’s highway and it contains no real surprises.

The cost is going up — although an economic slowdown in late 2012 and early 2013 kept the increase to less than 2 percent — and the vast majority of the costs are concentrated in urban areas.

ATRI said total congestion costs in 2013 reached $9.209 billion, a numerical increase of $131.4 million over 2012, which equated to 1.4 percent.

The increase likely reflected a growing economy and increased truck-borne freight movement, ATRI said.

“While the minor increase in cost is not alarming, total costs for the year were somewhat tempered due to relatively low costs in the first quarter, potentially the result of slower economic growth in the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013,” the report said, adding that had first quarter 2013 costs been more similar to the same period in 2012, costs would have been even greater.

The report lists three key findings, the first being the increase in the total cost of congestion.

ATRI also noted that delays totaled 141 million hours, equating to over 51,000 drivers sitting idle for one working year, and that congestion in the nation’s urban areas accounted for 89 percent of costs on 12 percent of interstate highway mileage.

Conversely, the report noted that 73 percent of the interstate mileage experienced little to no congestion.

Averaged across the 10.7 million registered large trucks in the United States, ARTI said the cost was $864 per truck, but that in actuality, the impact of congestion on a truck varied by configuration, location and amount driven.  For example, the average cost of congestion for a truck that traveled 12,000 miles in 2013 was $408, while a truck that drove 150,000 miles in a year had an average cost of $5,094.

The American Trucking Associations said in its most recent Trucking Trends publication that most long-haul trucks easily exceed 100,000 miles a year.

The top five list of metropolitan areas in terms of total costs was headed by Los Angeles-Long Beach, Santa Ana, Calif., with $1,081 billion, followed by New-York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa. at $984.2 million, Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. at $466.9 million, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas at $406 million, and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-Va.-Md.-W.Va. at $379.3 million.

Surprisingly, the Atlanta area, which truckers rate as one of the top two or three congested areas, ranked No. 10.

The top five state list mirrors the metropolitan list.

California is No. 1 at $1.706 billion followed by Texas at $1.053 billion, New York at $845 billion, Illinois at $498 million and Pennsylvania at $421 million.

Five states had less than $10 million in congestion costs, including North Dakota, Idaho, New Hampshire, Vermont, Nebraska and Maine.

And as might be expected, the top five counties were from the top five states, including Los Angeles County, Calif., at $944 million, Cook County, Ill., at $385 million, Harris County, Texas at $360 million, Alameda County, Calif., at $235 million and Dallas County, Texas, at $226 million.

The report illustrates how different events can impact congestion costs.

For instance, the Mount Vernon, Wash., area saw the largest urban increase in costs (676 percent) as a result of the collapse of the Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge in May 2013, which severely impacted travel times. Conversely, Lake Charles, La., had the greatest percent urban decrease in costs (83.4 percent), the result partly to severe delays when emergency repairs were made in early 2012 to the Interstate 10 Calcasieu River Bridge.

In the case of states, North Dakota experienced the greatest increase on a percentage basis (40.2 percent), potentially because of the recent growth of the oil industry. Louisiana saw the largest monetary decrease ($60.9 million), which coincided with major road construction projects that ended in 2012 and early 2013.

As for counties, Harris County, Texas, had the largest monetary increase of any county at nearly $38.6 million. The increase in congestion there was likely because of continued population growth in the Houston region, as Harris County experienced the largest population increase between 2012 and 2013 of any county in the U.S. (82,890 residents).

Kings County, N.Y., had the single-largest monetary drop in costs of any county ($27.4 million decline). The primary driver had a sharp drop in congestion costs on Interstate 278 west of the Brooklyn Bridge beginning in late 2012. This drop appears to coincide with the completion of a major construction project in the summer of 2012.

St. Francis County, Ark., had the highest percentage increase at more than 2,281 percent because of a major construction project on Interstate 40, which is already one of the busiest sections of interstate in the country. DeKalb County, Ill., saw the largest percentage decline in costs (-96.3 percent) with costs in that county virtually disappearing in 2013. In the summer of 2012, Interstate 88 was resurfaced, causing travel time delays for several months.

ATRI is the research arm of the American Trucking Associations.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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