WASHINGTON – Drivers waste nearly an entire work week each year sitting in traffic on the way to and from their jobs, according to a national study released Tuesday.
The nation's drivers languished in traffic delays for a total of 4.2 billion hours in 2005, up from 4 billion the year before, according to the Texas Traffic Institute's urban mobility report. That's about 38 hours per driver.
"Things are bad and they're getting worse," said Alan Pisarsky, a transportation expert and the author of "Commuting in America."
"We've used up the capacity that had been bequeathed to us by a previous generation, and we haven't replaced it," Pisarsky said.
The study summed it up this way: "Too many people, too many trips over too short of a time period on a system that is too small."
The study estimates that drivers wasted 2.9 billion gallons of fuel while sitting in traffic. Together with the lost time, traffic delays cost the nation $78.2 billion, the study estimates.
High gasoline prices appear to have cut into optional driving but not commuting to work, said David Schrank, an associate research scientist at the Texas Transportation Institute, which is part of Texas A&M University.
"We're really not seeing drops in the peak travel times," said Schrank, a co-author of the study.
About three-quarters of all commuters drive alone to work, according to census data.
The study provided detailed information on traffic congestion in the nation's 85 largest metropolitan areas.
The Los Angeles metro area had the worst congestion, delaying drivers an average of 72 hours a year. It was followed by Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington and Dallas.
The least congested metro areas were Spokane, Wash., and Brownsville, Texas, where drivers were delayed an average of eight hours a year.
The study offers a menu of options for addressing congestion, including adding roads or lanes where needed, improving public transportation and changing driving patterns through flexible work schedules, telecommuting and carpooling.
"The problem has grown too rapidly and is too complex for only one technology or service to be 'the solution' in most regions," the report said.
Atlanta has the second worst congestion in the country, though there has been some improvement, according to the study. In 2005, Atlanta drivers wasted an average of 60 hours a year in traffic delays — down from 70 hours a decade earlier.
A 2005 task force appointed by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue called for directing more resources toward mitigating traffic congestion in the Atlanta area.
But the region's population is growing so fast that planners are having a tough time dealing with the increase in automobiles, said Jane Hayse, chief of transportation planning for the Atlanta Regional Commission.
"With the pace of growth that we have here, it's pretty difficult to reduce congestion," Hayse said. "Trying to keep it at today's level is really our goal."
The Atlanta metropolitan area added 890,000 people from 2000 to 2006, more than any other metro area in the country, according to census estimates. There were 5.1 million people in the Atlanta area in 2006.