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Traffic flows over the American Legion Bridge along I-495, the Washington Beltway, between Virginia and Maryland. (Getty Images)

Best Place To Waste Time In Traffic: Washington, D.C.

Sep 27, 2011

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Korva Coleman

An annual study of traffic commutes around the country puts the nation's capital atop the list of worst traffic congestion. The Texas Transportation Institute, based at Texas A&M University, has released its annual ranking of commuters' nightmares; the metro Washington, D.C. area, including close Maryland and Virginia suburbs, came in first.

The TTI's report says the capital area commuters lose 74 hours every year to traffic backups, at a cost of $1,495 in lost wages because of the delays. They also squander an extra 37 gallons of gas annually waiting to get to work and travel home.

The Washington Post points out that D.C. area commuters lose nearly twice the time of the average American commuter, who gives up an extra 34 hours yearly to the lengthy drives. The depressing information is in the TTI's annual Urban Mobility Report, which says these delays cost about $100 billion dollars in all, or about $750 for the average commuter. That's still cheaper than what D.C. drivers pay.

Before you marvel, see if you live in one of the other top contending cities: Chicago, which was number one last year; the greater Los Angeles region; Houston; and the vast New York City area, from Newark, N.J. to Connecticut. Chicagoans lost more money last year to traffic tie-ups, at $1,568 each, but they didn't lose as much time in rush hour traffic compared to motorists in the greater Los Angeles area.

It could have been worse in Chicago. Study author David Schrank told the Chicago Tribune that area's public transit helped commuters save 91 million hours and more than two billion dollars.

The authors say the recession has trimmed the number of people driving so fewer workers got caught in traffic jams. But they warn when the economy improves, the average commuter will lose three more hours to gridlock and $900 in wages every year. And rush hour isn't limited to mornings and late afternoons anymore. The TTI estimates 40 percent of delays now happen at lunchtime and even develop overnight, as businesses try to send and receive goods in a timely manner.

The study urges investment in transit and road improvements to help businesses that will otherwise lose more money to traffic congestion. If businesses can't save money, study author David Ellis says consumers will face higher prices and workers could lose jobs.

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