According to a recent study, traffic jams like this are... According to a recent study, traffic jams like this are becoming more and more common (Scott Olson, Getty Images).
Update those podcasts and start bringing a thermos of coffee on your way to work because Americans are looking at longer and longer commutes. According to the 2010 Urban Mobility Report published by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, traffic congestion is on the rise again after two years of decline. Which means, unfortunately, many of us are going to be spending a lot more time behind the wheel.

The study, which looked at traffic congestion in 439 urban areas of the U.S., concluded that 2009 saw rising numbers of cars on the road after reductions in both 2007 and 2008. Researchers suggested that those reduction could be attributed to a commuter-killing combination of a nationwide economic downturn and high gas prices. But now that the economy is back on the rise, traffic seems to be responding in kind.

New for 2010, TTI analyzed a large amount of data from INRIX, a private-sector provider of travel time information. In doing so, it was able to provide an enhanced report on traffic congestion on a city-by-city basis.

"This Urban Mobility Report begins an exciting new era for comprehensive national congestion measurement," said researcher Tim Lomax in a statement. "By combining the traffic speed data from INRIX with the traffic volume data from the states, we are now able to provide a much better and more detailed picture of the problems facing urban travelers."

The problems caused by increased traffic congestion are striking. Not only does it mean more time spent in the car and less time at work or with our families, it also means serious consequences for the environment, the national economy, and our own wallets. Some highlights from the data:

Most Congested Cities

City Yearly Delay per
Auto Commuter
Chicago, IL 70
Washington, DC 70
Los Angeles, CA 63
Houston, TX 58
Baltimore, MD 50
San Francisco, CA 49
Dallas, TX 48
Boston, MA 48
Denver, CO 47
Atlanta, GA 44
Seattle, WA 44

Source: Texas Transportation Institute

-Congested roads cost our economy $115 billion in 2009, up from $24 billion in 1982 (when adjusted for inflation).

-Congested roads were responsible for wasting 3.9 billion gallons of fuel, which, according to TTI, is equal to 130 days of flow in the Alaska Pipeline.

-Congested roads cost the average commuter $808 in 2009, up from $351 in 1982 (when adjusted for inflation).

-The average commuter spent about 34 hours sitting idly in their car in 2009, nearly a day and a half.

The study also looked into the benefits of both public transportation and road construction and maintenance. It found that without public transportation "travelers would have suffered an additional 785 million hours of delay and consumed 640 million more gallons of fuel – a savings of $19 billion in congestion costs." Similarly, road construction and maintenance saved drivers "320 million hours of delay and 265 million gallons of fuel for a congestion cost savings of $8 billion."

Since the release of the analysis based on the new INRIX data, researchers have been able to have a more accurate and detailed idea of where traffic congestion is headed and how it will affect our daily lives. "This year's report is a remarkable game changer," said researcher David Schrank in a statement. "The new data address the biggest shortcoming of previous reports. The data show conditions for every day of the year and include the effect of weather problems, traffic crashes, special events, holidays, work zones and other factors directly impacting traffic flow."

With better data, researchers can formulate new ways to alleviate our congestion problems, eventually saving us time, money and fresh air.

TTI acknowledged that there is not one true solution to controlling our rising traffic congestion problem. Rather, it recommended focusing on a little bit of everything, from increasing public transportation where it is needed most, to employing more ride-sharing, to improving our infrastructure to make walking and biking more practical.

"There is no rigid prescription – no 'best way' – to address congestion problems," Lomax said. "The most effective strategy is one where agency actions are complemented by efforts of businesses, manufacturers, commuters and travelers. Each region must identify the projects, programs and policies that achieve goals, solve problems and capitalize on opportunities."

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