Traffic Congestion On The Rise, Says ATRI Report

Traffic Congestion

Every year, we wait excitedly for the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) to release their industry report based on survey responses from over 2,000 trucking stakeholders. In 2019, congestion and infrastructure were found as one of the top 10 industry issues (coming in at #9). 

This isn’t entirely news, though. Congestion has been in the top 10 every year since 2011.

This year, however, they’re finding that aftermaths associated with congestion are growing at an exponential rate. It’s growing ever more urgent to address the issue of congestion on the roads to enhance productivity and safety for drivers. 


What is Congestion? 

Traffic congestion is the condition when roads are used at a higher rate, so there are more cars and trucks on the road, slower speeds, longer trip times, and increased waits and queuing. Although this occasionally occurs from unexpected incidents, like accidents, it is more frequently a cause of road infrastructure – or a lack thereof. 


Why is Congestion a Problem? 

  • Causes wear and tear on vehicles
  • Wastes fuel and increases emissions 
  • Creates delays and lengthens time spent on roads for drivers 
  • Causes undue stress on drivers 
  • Movements towards autonomy are hindered by congestion (self-driving cars can’t drive on traffic-filled roads)

Overall, congestion slows drivers (sometimes to a crawl), wastes resources, and dramatically destroys productivity levels. 

In fact, ATRI research estimates that delays caused by congestion increase the trucking industry’s fuel consumption by over 6 billion gallons. 

Curious to read the report for yourself? Get the ATRI 2019 research here


Why is Congestion Getting Worse? 

There are a lot of causes of traffic congestion. They all, unfortunately, work together to worsen the severity of congestion. Some reasons congestion happens: 

  • Commute, rush hour encourages more cars on the road 
  • Lack of other transportation options, like biking or public transit 
  • Obstacles that cause a block or merger, like road work or lane closures
  • Frequent accidents on certain roadways
  • Out of sync traffic signals or malfunctioning tech 
  • Inadequate green lights and time
  • Too many pedestrians crossing streets
  • Too many trucks on road due to not enough rail or intermodal opportunities 
  • Increased need for last-mile logistics with delivery services 


How Does ATRI Suggest Solving Rising Congestion? 

  1. Increase the fuel tax to fund and improve the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure 
  2. Create a funding program specific to addressing truck bottlenecks in major freight corridors 
  3. Target resources on corridors with the most significant freight volumes, especially based on ATRI’s Freight Performance Measures (FPM) 

It’s not going to be an easy road to solving the issue of congestion. It’s not as simple as getting people to use their cars less (and even that encouragement is a challenge itself). It requires a mixture of offering more non-driving opportunities, like bikes and public transit, as well as a massive update to road infrastructure. These kinds of updates require a lot of funding—and a lot of funding in the right areas

Some commonly proposed interventions to minimize traffic congestion include:

  • Monitoring road conditions in real-time 
  • Optimizing the management of traffic lights and signage 
  • Charging for workplace parking
  • Improving bus and rail services/networks 
  • Improving the perception of public transit
  • Enabling cycling infrastructure
  • Enforcing traffic laws 
  • Defining park and ride for urban areas 
  • Rationalizing deliveries
  • Enhancing the distribution processes from warehouse centers

The list goes on. And they all cost money, although some have a lower capital investment than others. More trucking stakeholders are taking notice of the severity of the rising congestion to push funding in the right direction. 

If traffic congestion can start to lessen, we expect that a lot of the other issues presented in the report will also be remedies:

  • Drivers will be less stressed, which can enhance retention (which is especially critical during a driver shortage
  • There will be much fewer delays, so hours of service concerns won’t be as prevalent
  • Drivers will be on the road for fewer hours, so they won’t need to be paid overtime—which will improve compensation rates for truckers and companies alike 
  • Trucking companies can better plan for arrival times, so there will be less delay at facilities and improved planning 

Traffic congestion is at its worst, and it’s costing us billions. It’s time to start fighting for funding in the right areas if we want to get back on track, especially as automation tech draws nearer and nearer. 

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