Traffic congestion affecting trucking costs

This is already a serious issue for the industry and will be an even greater issue soon if action isn’t taken to help with capacity issues.

We see it every day in most major cities across the United States and we all know how traffic has become routine in our daily lives. In the most recent “2019 Top 100 Trucking Bottlenecks” report that was released by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), you can see a decline in the average speed through peak times on 19 of the top 20 bottlenecks.

This is a clear indication that these congested areas are only getting worse by the year. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade in 2017 when it provided its latest report card. This report is provided every four years and information about the report card can be found at with explanations on how it is graded. A “D” rating is defined as: “The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.” With the current state of our highways and bridges, the trucking industry is outpacing what our infrastructure can handle. 

In 2016, the trucking industry experienced nearly 1.2 billion hours of delay on the National Highway System according to the ATRI. This equates to 425,533 commercial drivers sitting idle for an entire work year. The estimated operational costs of these delays were roughly $74.5 billion. If you distribute the costs over the 11.5 million large trucks registered, this equates to an average of $6,478 a year per truck on average.

There are several costs associated with a tractor idling in traffic, including fuel, maintenance, safety, productivity and environmental costs. Idling runs the engine while only partially combusting diesel fuel. This will lead to residue buildup on engine components, inefficient fuel consumption and costly mechanical degradation.

The aftertreatment system will be affected by the extra soot downstream increasing maintenance schedules and component failures. Over the past decade we have seen the trial-and-error phase of the current aftertreatment system, and we are all too familiar with the costs associated. Excessive idling inflates these aftertreatment costs even more. Even though a tractor is sitting still in traffic, all the engine components are still working and therefore costing money. A tractor burns approximately 0.8 gallons of fuel per hour when idling, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The fuel costs for the trucking industry in 2016 due to congestion was approximately $15.74 billion according to the ATRI.

How will this look 10 years from now? This is already a serious issue for the industry and will be an even greater issue soon if action isn’t taken to help with capacity issues. In 2017, the EPA reported that the transportation industry was responsible for 29% of overall greenhouse gas emissions, making the industry the top contributor. How much of this could be reduced if we could find a way to ease congestion at some of these major bottlenecks throughout the United States?

One of the first things that happens when traffic starts backing up in an area is people will start to take alternate routes to avoid being caught in the rush hour traffic. Large trucks using smaller roads to avoid traffic can cause safety concerns for everyone around. Some truck and bus traffic on smaller roads is expected and necessary, however, these roads shouldn’t be subject to an influx of traffic year over year. In fact, the local agencies have an obligation to keep traffic from reaching a point to where it lowers the quality of life and threatens public health and safety.

When there are major bottle necks in a major city, the surrounding areas will get increased amounts of traffic as a result of motorists taking alternate routes to avoid traffic. This will subsequently increase the risk of accidents in the area and expose your company drivers to the risks associated. Even minor fender benders can be costly, and this is prime environment for an accident of any caliber to happen.  

Travis Wynes is chief executive officer of Mobile Transportation Service, an on-site fleet maintenance provider that strives to reduce downtime and overall maintenance costs to the fleet.