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Traffic Is Going to Suck Even More When the Economy Finally Improves

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It turns out there are some slight benefits to a bum economy: fewer people employed means fewer people taking up space on the freeway during the morning and afternoon commutes. Since the economy tanked, traffic has actually improved quite dramatically in Los Angeles and nationally.

But traffic is supposed to get uglier when the economy improves and more of us get jobs, according to a study put out by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M.

The best year for congestion in recent times was 2008, when the economy took a dip and gas prices shot up. 2009 wasn't a bad year, but the study found that in 2010 traffic is already getting worse. Not that things are great now. Nationwide the study found that in 2010 Americans wasted 4.8 billion hours and 1.9 billion gallons of fuel in traffic. Altogether we lost $101 billion to traffic in 2010.

The study's authors estimate that if we don't anything to improve our transportation infrastructure, more of us will spending even more time in our cars:

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Delay will grow to 6.1 billion hours in 2015 and 7.7 billion hours in 2020. The average commuter will see their cost grow to $937 in 2015 and $1,232 in 2020 (in 2010 dollars). They will waste 37 hours and 16 gallons in 2015 and 41 hours and 19 gallons in 2020. Wasted fuel will increase to 2.5 billion gallons in 2015 and 3.2 billion gallons in 2020. If the price of gasoline grows to $5 per gallon, the congestion-related fuel cost would grow to $13 billion in 2015 and $16 billion in 2020.

The study's authors suggest we start thinking about ways to minimize congestion: public transportation, nontraditional work days, working from home or anything that will get us out of our cars before and after a traditional work day.

You can see in this table how much time we have been wasting in our cars since 1982 and how we compare to other cities. In 1982, we were the worst when we wasted 39 hours of our lives each year to traffic on average. And while traffic is worse, other regions have caught up to us and even surpassed us. In 2005, we wasted a whopping 82 hours in traffic, but by 2009 that had dropped to 63 hours:

And while LA's public transportation system gets a bad rap, this table shows us where we would have been without it. Public transportation saved Southern California $708.8 million dollars and 33.6 million hours: