Locations in Chicago, IL; Fort Lee, NJ, and Houston, TX, have earned the dubious distinction of holding the top three spots in the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI)/ Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) annual report on highway congestion at freight-significant highway locations.

In Chicago, I-290 at I-90 /I-94 emerged as the most congested section of highway in the nation, followed by I-95 at SR 4 in New Jersey and I-45 at U.S. 59 in Houston.

Houston, in fact, holds five spots in the top 15 list this year. Chicago anchors two. Other highways in the top 15 include areas in or near Gary, IN; Austin, TX; Minneapolis, MN; Los Angeles, CA, and Cincinnati, OH. This news will probably not come as much of a surprise to the nation’s truckers.

The research, released on Wednesday, assesses the level of truck-oriented congestion at 250 locations on the national highway system, uses ATRI-developed analysis methods, customized software tools and terabytes of data from trucking operations to produce a congestion severity ranking for each location. It is an ongoing is part of the Freight Performance Measures (FPM) initiative sponsored by FHWA’s Office of Freight Management and Operations and operated by ATRI.

The “FPM” congestion monitoring effort combines anonymous truck GPS location information with sophisticated software applications and analysis techniques to assess the levels at which truck-based freight was affected by traffic congestion in 2010. The result is a clear documentation of system chokepoints, especially during peak travel times in urban locations.

Kevin Knight, chairman & CEO of Knight Transportation, noted that “Strengthening the efficiency of supply chains is becoming a critical component of U.S. economic growth. Challenge number one is identifying the freight bottlenecks. Fortunately, ATRI’s report goes far in using real-world data to tell us where the impediments lie.”

“The impact of traffic congestion on truck travel is well known, but rarely in a fashion where we can pinpoint projects for resource allocation and reconstruction,” said Keith Bucklew, manager of Multimodal Planning for the Indiana DOT. “The FPM program continues to provide real value to public sector transportation managers.”

Another traffic study, the Urban Mobility Report, published by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at Texas A&M University in January of this year, laid at least some of the blame for increased congestion on economic recovery. The report noted that after two years of slight declines in overall traffic congestion – attributable to the economic downturn and higher fuel prices – leading indicators suggested that as the economy is rebounding, so too are traffic problems.