Home / Blog / The price of highway bottlenecks

The price of highway bottlenecks

Traffic has a negative impact on the trucking industry.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Truckers who consistently find themselves driving throughout major U.S. cities will want to pay special attention to a recent study looking at some of the worst highway bottlenecks across the country.

The study, titled Unclogging America's Arteries 2015, was conducted by the American Highway Users Alliance and identified the 50 worst highway bottlenecks. Some of these standstills caused traffic to last for miles. Delays were experienced even outside of typical commuting hours. Regular drivers understand the frustration of driving at a snail-like pace, but for the trucking industry, the ramifications are even larger. The findings highlight the need for a transportation funding to enable states to upgrade existing infrastructure or implement improvements.

"The 10th worst bottleneck is the I-35 corridor that runs through downtown Austin, Texas."

Problematic traffic areas
Of the 30 worst bottlenecks, Chicago's I-90 highway was cited as the worst, with delays totaling an approximate 17 million hours per year. However, the time lost to traffic was calculated at 1 million hours, with 3 million hours on average.

The majority of these terrible traffic conditions are found in major cities. The 10th worst bottleneck is the I-35 corridor that runs through downtown Austin, Texas. On average, there are 3 million hours of annual total delays. Houston's I-69/I-69 between Hazard St. and Buffalo Speedway is ranked as the 22nd worst bottleneck, and the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in Dallas was cited as the 27th worst area.

Numerous other areas in the Texas region, mainly centered around some of the state's most populated cities also make the list. It should be noted, however, that congestion is not limited to only urban areas.

According to the report, the I-35 corridor is vital to freight transportation. In fact, I-35 carries the highest percentage of semi-trailers in the nation at 12 percent. Delays in this area can have severe repercussions for logistics management companies, shippers, carriers and more.

This specific area in Austin provides access to the state capitol, the central business district, and the University of Texas, a school with 51,313 students. Most importantly is the implications delays have on shipping goods as part of international trade. As part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, semi-trailers traverse I-35 in high volume to ship goods from and to Mexico.

Traffic effect on trucking
The trucking industry continues to be a vital component of the American economy. According to the American Trucking Association, overall freight tonnage will increase 23.5 percent from 2013 to 2025 while freight revenues grow 72 percent.

As a result, a study from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration found truck vehicle-miles traveled will increase more than double the projected rate of passenger automobiles. Therefore, there are economic and personal effects that involve drivers and the industry.

According to AHUA's study, annual delays from Austin's bottleneck cost an estimated $73 million per year, but those aren't the only costs. Drivers are personally losing out on income because most are paid by the mile while having to oblige by mandatory Hours of Service. Time spent sitting in traffic is therefore completely wasted. Idle trucks are costly to everyone in the logistics chain.

In an interview with Fleet Owner, Bill Graves, chairman of the AHUA, as well as president and CEO of ATA, said delays caused by traffic bottlenecks cost the country billions of dollars.

"They are truckers' worst nightmares come true, but one that tens of thousands of our nation's freight haulers have to deal with daily," added Graves.

Solutions to alleviate traffic
Complex congestion issues can be solved if state and local governments invest in the infrastructure. These projects will result in many positive benefits, such as improved speed, reliability and safety.

Additionally, AHUA estimates that alleviating the 30 worst bottlenecks would have some of the following impacts:

  • Annually save 91 million hours of time, equating to $2.4 billion
  • Save 35 million gallons of fuel and 740 pounds of CO2
  • Prevent 9,800 accidents

Over the course of 20 years, those benefits would continue to rise, and the trucking industry will be a major beneficiary. Costs that trucking companies save on fuel can be put into other areas, such as new equipment and driver benefits.

One example of successfully reducing a bottleneck can be found in Houston with the Katy Freeway. Before construction repairs, up to 11 hours of daily congestion were produced. Between 2003 and 2008, a $2.8 billion reconstruction of a 20-mile stretch alleviated severe traffic by increasing the amount of lanes from three to six moving in both directions. Funds were a combination of grant funding and toll-backed debt.

"Delays have a dramatic effect on the industry."

The trucking industry is not immune to severe traffic conditions caused by bottlenecks. In fact, delays have a dramatic effect on the industry, from delayed shipping times to loss of income for drivers.

The recent AHUA study highlighted a glaring issue that can be solved with the right amount of funding and repair projects.

Fixing existing infrastructure
Upgrades to existing infrastructure will help alleviate some of the worst pressure points across the country. The economic benefits, as highlighted by AHUA, are numerous. Over the course of 20 years, the economy can recover $39 billion dollars due to time not being wasted sitting in traffic. Truck companies are directly affected because they will save on fuel costs, while drivers will not lose out on income.

Areas cited as having the some of the worst bottlenecks will see different economic and time changes. Moving forward, politicians and the trucking industry will have to work together to forge a sustainable plan to eliminate bottleneck areas to help drivers, shipping times and the economy.