Freight Bottlenecks Are a $42B Hidden Cost On U.S. Economy, Federal Data Shows

Mon May 24, 2021 - National Edition

Freight bottlenecks cost the U.S. economy more than $42 billion in 2019 — a hidden tax on the American people that is only likely to increase as the country fully opens, according to a review of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) study, "Throttled: The Economic Costs of Freight Bottlenecks," also shows that freight shipments suffered almost 660 million hours of delay on the nation's roadways.

"Our examination brings into sharp focus the continued costs of congestion on America's highway network," said ARTBA Chief Economist Alison Premo Black. "Legislation to address freight mobility through increased federal transportation investment would help alleviate these bottlenecks, increase business productivity and power the economy for the next generation."

Among key findings:

  • New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, Houston, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia and Atlanta are among cities hardest hit by freight bottlenecks.
  • The cost of congestion on the Interstate Highway System alone has grown 25 percent over the last two years — from $12 billion in 2017 to more than $15 billion in 2019.
  • The cost of congestion on the top 10 bottlenecks increased by 11 percent in just one year — from $761.8 million in 2018 to $848.4 million in 2019.
  • 26 states face $500 million or more in congestion costs annually.
  • Highway freight shipments experienced more than 658,854,025 million hours of delay in 2019, with more than one-third of those hours (36 percent) on the Interstate Highway System.

FHWA calculates the delay per mile to quantify the cost of bottlenecks across major corridors and compares performance from year to year. Almost 73 percent of the value of domestic freight is shipped via truck and the value of truck shipments is expected to more than double by 2045, according to ARTBA's analysis of FHWA's data.

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