Study: America will soon see Labor Day-like traffic, all year long


For those who hate heavy traffic -- and really, who doesn't? -- we've got some very bad news. According to the U.S. Travel Association, America's roads are clogging fast, and within the next couple of decades, some areas of the country could see congestion on par with Labor Day traffic all year round.

The Association looked at key travel corridors across the U.S., comparing regular traffic, holiday traffic, and rates of growth. In a nutshell, they found that traffic volume is outpacing our highways' ability to accommodate that growth. As a result, even the most minor fender-bender can cause miles of slowdowns.

To put it in perspective, the Association devised projections as to when these key travel corridors would see year-round congestion on par with Labor Day. That's because Labor Day is widely understood to be America's busiest period for auto travel, boasting traffic volumes 140 to 160 percent above average.

As you'll see from the map above, at the current rate of growth, drivers along 1-95 on Florida's Atlantic coast (Palm Beach to Melbourne) will be the first to experience the crunch sometime around 2020. Not long afterward, the pain will be felt by drivers traveling from New York to Washington D.C. along I-95, and those going from Los Angeles to San Diego along I-5. 

But wait: I thought traffic had peaked?

Over the past few months, we've reported on at least two studies that show Americans are driving less. 

That would seem like great news for the traffic-averse. After all, fewer miles traveled means less congestion, right?

Not so fast. Those studies both focused on the number of miles traveled per person and per vehicle. For example, Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute determined that the average American vehicle traveled 11,318 miles in 2011, down from 11,946 in 2004.

However, the number of vehicles on the road continues to increase, thanks to business growth, population growth, and other factors. So, yes, we're driving less, but there are more of us driving. That means a net gain of cars on the road, which means an increase in traffic.

Worse, desperately needed improvements to the nation's infrastructure are being delayed thanks to budget cuts at all levels of government. Not only are highways too small to handle the increasing volume of vehicles, but our roads and bridges are crumbling, meaning that the infrastructure we do have is dangerous (causing accidents) and frequently under repair (causing construction delays). None of that helps traffic congestion.

To see when and if you'll need to pack a lunch for your morning commute, have a look at the map above.