A car that is sitting still with the engine running is getting zero miles per gallon, no matter how efficient the aerodynamics or how great the hybrid powertrain is. Spread out over the entire U.S., all those zero mile per gallon situations – i.e. traffic jams – means Americans are wasting 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline a year, according to a new Treasury Department report. Another way to look at that is that congested roads cost Americans over $100 billion a year (calculated both as wasted fuel and time). It's not much better in the skies, where Treasury discovered that "more efficient air traffic control systems would save three billion gallons of jet fuel a year."
The report (PDF) is part of President Obama's transportation infrastructure proposal. The report calls the president's plan "bold" and says it, "includes a $50 billion up-front investment connected to a $476 billion six-year reauthorization of the surface transportation program and the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank." Revamping the national infrastructure is important, since the report claims that out of every seven dollars the average American earns, one dollar goes to pay for transportation costs.
The Treasury's 1.9 billion number is roughly half as much as an Urban Mobility report found about fuel wasted in the U.S. in 2010, which was 3.9 billion gallons, but we don't know the methodologies used in determining the two numbers. However things were calculated, it's clear that we could use more technologies like start-stop as well as improved infrastructure to minimize traffic jams in the first place. Of course, since researchers have found potential links between traffic jams and autism and brain cell damage, fuel and money aren't the only things we need to worry about when we're not getting to where we want to go.