Traffic jams cost US $87 billion in lost productivity in 2018, and Boston and DC have the nation's worst

Key Points
  • Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago are the three worst U.S. cities for congestion in terms of hours lost by drivers.
  • Drivers in Boston lose 164 hours, just under one week, dealing with slow-moving traffic.
  • Boston's traffic costs the local economy $4.1 billion, or an average "congestion cost" per driver of $2,291, in 2018.

Time is money, and a new report shows just how much time and money Americans are wasting sitting in their cars and trucks.

The total last year was $87 billion, or $1,348 per driver, according to new data analyzed by research firm INRIX. Each year, INRIX issues a Global Traffic Scorecard based on millions of pieces of data from connected vehicles, departments of transportation, cellular positioning reports and a number of other sources.

The picture they paint of congestion in the U.S. in 2018 is not pretty, especially when it comes to the excess amount of time we spend behind the wheel slowly making our way to work or some other destination.

"Traffic is still really bad out there," said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst with INRIX.

INRIX ranks Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago as the three worst U.S. cities for congestion in terms of hours lost by drivers annually.

In the Boston area, INRIX calculates drivers lost 164 hours, just under one week, dealing with slow-moving traffic last year. The cost of that congestion to the Boston area in terms of lost productivity came to $4.1 billion, according to the report. INRIX says that works out to an average "congestion cost" per Boston-area driver of $2,291.

The analysis says Washington, D.C., and Chicago drivers lost 155 and 138 hours, respectively, due to heavy traffic in 2018. Both are ranked by INRIX as slightly more congested than New York City and Los Angeles.

"Old cities that did not develop around cars and driving have the worst congestion," said Reed.

Reed says cities in the U.S. are not the worst in the world when it comes to congestion. That dubious distinction goes to Moscow, Russia, where INRIX says the average driver lost 210 hours to congestion last year. Rounding out the Global Traffic Scorecard list of the five worst cities in the world for congestion are Istanbul, Turkey; Bogota, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. INRIX ranked Boston #8, the only U.S. city in the report's top 10 for bad traffic worldwide.

While long, slow commutes are not going away, Reed said, cities are working to ease congestion. "Traffic is unlikely to get better, but you are starting to see an improvement in options to move people with the addition of things like bike lanes or designated routes," he said.

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