Congestion levels in large and small urban areas were buffeted by several trends in 2011. Some caused congestion increases and others decreased stop-and-go traffic. The 2011 data are consistent with one past trend, congestion will not go away by itself – action is needed! The problem is very large. In 2011, congestion caused urban Americans to travel 5.5 billion hours more and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel for a congestion cost of $121 billion. In order to arrive on time for important trips, travelers had to allow for 60 minutes to make a trip that takes 20 minutes in light traffic. While congestion is below its peak in 2005, there is only a short-term cause for celebration. Prior to the economy slowing, just 5 years ago, congestion levels were much higher than a decade ago; these conditions will return as the economy improves. The data show that congestion solutions are not being pursued aggressively enough. The most effective congestion reduction strategy, however, is one where agency actions are complemented by efforts of businesses, manufacturers, commuters and travelers. There is no rigid prescription for the “best way”—each region must identify the projects, programs and policies that achieve goals, solve problems and capitalize on opportunities.
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