Two new studies are sounding an alarm over rapidly increasing traffic congestion in the U.S. – congestion so severe that it may significantly impede the nation’s freight transportation network.

The Road Information Program (TRIP), a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, said in a report entitled “Stuck in Traffic” that growing levels of traffic congestion are increasing shipping costs and wasting time and fuel for both trucking companies and motorists.

TRIP said its report shows that costs to individual motorists in the nation’s largest urban areas are going up, rising by 39% during the 1990s to $625 per person in the nation's largest urban areas. The average vehicle trip in urban areas now takes 26% longer during rush hour, with 27% of the country’s urban freeways classified as congested.

More critical are the effects of congestion on freight traffic, said TRIP. It said 72% of the estimated $7-trillion worth of goods shipped from sites nationwide is transported on trucks with an additional 12% transported by courier services, bringing the total to 84% of all goods shipped that travel over roads.

However, freight shipments are expected to double in most parts of the country over the next 20 years, said TRIP, with trucks projected to carry 82% of the new total amount of tonnage. Yet new road construction has only increased 6%, which could exacerbate already bad traffic congestion, the group said.

Much of the data in TRIP’s report came from data released this week by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), based at Texas A&M University. In TTI’s latest report, the 2001 Urban Mobility Study, shows the cost of traffic congestion nationwide totaled $78-billion, representing the cost of 4.5-billion hours of extra travel time and 6.8 billion gallons of fuel wasted while sitting in traffic.

The average delay is 36 hours per person per year and the average rush hour trip takes 32% more time than the same trip taken during non-rush hour conditions, said TTI.