Americans Waste 1.9 Billion Gallons of Gas In Traffic

Traffic jams and poor road conditions are expensive. How expensive? According to a recent Treasury Department report, roadway congestion costs the country around $100 billion annually, based on time wasted and an estimated 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline burned in idling engines.

Potholes, and chewed up roads are another issue, the report says. Average estimated costs to motorists in some densely packed areas in California, New York and elsewhere range between $400-800 per year for damage done to vehicles traversing these roads that need maintenance.

This report came, not surprisingly, in time for a release of a $109 billion bill supported by the Obama administration to improve the country’s infrastructure, according to USA Today. The bill passed the Senate March 14, and the House Republicans are tied up over a $260 billion bill that would cover a 5-year period.

On Monday the House will vote on a temporary extension of federal funding support to states as various roadway construction projects are started this spring.

Poor road surfaces and too many vehicles crowded together are long-chronicled problems that stand to get worse, the data suggests.

As for a move to “bring existing highways and bridges into a state of good repair,” that aspect, says the Treasury Department report, would require $85 billion per year for the next 20 years to do it right.

The report says also that $1 out of $7 of the average income for 90 percent of all Americans goes toward that all-American pastime – no, not baseball, but rather, traveling to and fro.

Indeed, the money spent on transportation from the average annual family budget – $7,600 – is double the out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures.

The Treasury – as it implicitly lays out a case for spending more, but some will say where will the money come from? – observed that the U.S. spends just 2 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, compared to China (9 percent), India (8 percent), and Europe (5 percent).

It might also be observed the U.S. has a substantially higher GDP and has been substantially more built-out than the developing nations of China and India, but even Europe spends two and a half times more.

A switch in the U.S. to mass transit reliance has been on the rise as witnessed by a 70-percent increase in light and heavy rail lines. Over the past 15 years annual transit ridership grew from 8 billion in 1996 to 10.4 billion in 2011.

We’ll note also, green cars are still a fraction of the market as Americans burn 1.9 billion gallons a year in traffic congestion.

However, small car sales have been on the rise, used hybrid prices are now reportedly strong, policymakers and automakers here and abroad are planning for much higher efficiency in the coming decade and beyond.

This and plenty more information begging – or pushing – for a shift in the way we travel is out there. How it all plays out remains to be seen.


USA Today
via AutoGuide


  • dsl987

    The US could save a LOT of fuel if it would get over it’s love of 4 way intersections regulated by stoplights or stop signs and adopt more traffic circles. Nothing more frustrating than sitting at a red light while no traffic is using the intersection. Traffic circles also work when the power goes out.

  • Joe

    Replace more stop signs with yield signs?

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Require stop start on all new cars….

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Anonymous

    mrenergyczar hits it right on the head.

    this notion of “lost gas” in traffic is a little misleading…

    from basic aerodynamic principals, energy loss due to drag is lowest in low speeds. cars don’t lose more gas because it is traveling slowly. cars lose most gas when it is not moving (i.e. idling). so having stop-start plus regen braking in every car will actually yield higher efficiency with traffic.

    a good example is prius in heavy traffic generally can yield higher mpg (often coined “city driving”) than driving at a free flow speed (aka “hwy driving”).