Traffic Makes U.S. Less Energy Secure

When I was born, about four decades ago, roughly half of U.S. oil consumption was attributable to the transportation sector – sucking up 8 million barrels of oil per day. Today, transportation consumes 70% of our oil – guzzling more than 13 million barrels per day.

No question about it: our nation is addicted to oil. So much so that America accounts for more than one-fifth of the world’s daily oil consumption. This dependence on dirty energy poses a clear and present danger to our national security.

That point was made clear exactly one year ago, in a report released by the Energy Security Leadership Council, which showed the crucial interaction between U.S. transportation policy and energy security posed by our over-reliance on oil. Now comes another important new report from Securing America's Future Energy, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing America's dependence on oil by educating policymakers and advocating for comprehensive energy reform. SAFE's report -- Congestion in America -- makes the case that our country's oil addiction threatens our national and economic security.

Specifically, SAFE's report focuses on the challenge of U.S. oil dependence and the dynamics of worsening road congestion in America’s cities. It also identifies a range of options available to policymakers to improve traveler mobility, and reduce wasted time and fuel. Essentially, the report shows how traffic results in wasteful oil consumption in cities of all sizes, and severely threatens the potential future oil-savings benefits associated with more efficient vehicles and alternative fuels. 

Think about this: The average commute time in the U.S. is about 25 minutes each way, and here in Washington, D.C. the number is closer to 35 minutes. SAFE estimates that in 2030 what should be a 30-minute driving commute in D.C. will take 56 minutes

According to SAFE, in 2010 drivers in U.S. urban areas were estimated to have wasted 1.9 billion gallons of fuel -- equivalent to approximately 4 entire days of highway petroleum consumption -- idling in traffic for 4.8 billion hours. (Over the past decade, that wasted time and fuel cost us almost $1 trillion!) By 2030, SAFE estimates that more than 3 billion gallons of fuel will be wasted in the U.S. each year by commuters.

In its report, SAFE recommends a number strategies to address the growing problem of traffic congestion. One key recommendation (that is a priority for NRDC) is greater federal investment to improve and expand public transit. After all, the more people who have the option to take a bus or a train to work, the fewer cars will crowd our congested highways. 

The nation’s current federal surface transportation legislation—which funds more than $50 billion a year in highway and transit programs—expires on March 31. It remains to be seen whether Congress will authorize new, fully-funded, multi-year transportation legislation or instead be forced to extend the current law yet again. When our elected leaders finally do come together on transportation policy, it is crucial to our economic and energy security that they get serious and do something to ease congestion in America. More transit is just what the nation needs.