Tunnels, Tolls, and Bridges: 5 Cities Where Infrastructure Will Affect Your Commute

by Carson BuckJuly 21, 2017

Understanding the Role Poor Infrastructure Plays in Our Nation’s Commute

The results are in! According to recent survey data: “A strong economy and cheap gas have put more motorists on U.S. roads, leading to the worst-ever traffic congestion and forcing the average urban commuter to waste about 42 hours a year stuck in traffic jams.”

While a booming economy brings workforce benefits, a strenuous commute takes its toll on drivers. Studies show that the stress from traveling to and from work in traffic encourages an “aggressive, combative, competitive frame for driving [which] could have implications for cardiovascular disease.” Likewise, other researchers claim that time spent in a slow freeway crawl breed emotional, physical, and psychological consequence.

So are traffic-induced headaches byproducts of a growing population and more commuters on the road? In cities like San Francisco and Seattle where tech and startup industries are booming, the easy answer is yes, a greater volume of drivers has impacted the average commuter’s time spent in traffic. However, infrastructure plays a key role in affecting commute. There’s also a strong correlation between cities that lack infrastructure and cities that are heavily plagued by congestion.

With all that in mind, here’s a closer look at five U.S. cities where poor infrastructure is creating some of the worst commute times in the nation.

Washington D.C.

The nation’s capital is in hot water – and not just for its controversial political climate. According to Intrix, residents of Washington, D.C. tie with San Francisco for the second worst commuter cities in the nation. On average, a Washington, D.C. commuter wastes 75 hours a year in traffic. For a D.C. resident who works a full 35 years before retirement, that’s nearly a third of a year spent stalled in congested traffic!

Who’s to blame? The region is known for its poor toll and road infrastructure, and according to the Washington Post, there isn’t much hope for improvement.

Regional expert Robert Thompson shares, “Planners assume the D.C. region will continue to grow and that travel demand will increase. But they don’t design the infrastructure to create free-flowing traffic at rush hours. That would be inefficient, since the infrastructure would still be there during all those off-peak hours when the travel demand is much less. And the construction cost — already high — would be prohibitive.”

San Francisco

Tied with Washington D.C. for the Nation’s second worst city for hours spent in traffic, San Francisco’s roads are struggling to find space for commuters. Much of the added commute time in San Francisco comes from the sheer volume of people now living and working in the city.

But according to SF Gate, there’s “something else that’s increased: construction, as evidenced by the forest of cranes South of Market. Work on the Transbay Terminal and Central Subway, as well as city sewer and street repairs, and office and residential tower projects, obstructs lanes and frequently alters lane configurations, leading to traffic tangles that can change daily.”

While the city is making strides to improve its dilapidated infrastructure, the current construction conditions are adding hours for commuters.

New York

Following closely behind San Francisco and Washington D.C., New York commuters average 73 hours per year spent in traffic. A lack of sufficient bridge infrastructure plays a large role in New York’s traffic pains.

According to a report by CNBC, New York City may be repairing the Tappan Zee Bridge, “but it’s the lesser known bridges that are giving planners fits. More than a third of the state’s bridges are deficient or worse… and it’s not just New York City: the Buffalo area saw more than 1,400 water main breaks in 2014 alone.”


Also ranking in the nation’s ten worst traffic commutes: Seattle, Washington. Here, commuters spend an average of 66 hours in traffic annually. Following in San Francisco’s footsteps, the influx of tech industries (think giants like Amazon) is largely to blame for increased rent and added hours spent in traffic. According to TomTom’s data, “Seattle’s traffic caused a 31 percent spike in extra travel time in 2015.”

But the city’s infrastructure hasn’t kept up with its growth. Geekwire claims that “compared to other growing cities worldwide, Seattle’s transportation infrastructure ranks among the bottom.”

Unlike other cities, however there is a silver lining. Geekwire shares that “The city is making an effort to expand its light rail system and will invest nearly $1 billion over the next decade to improve transportation.” New infrastructure promises future relief for the Seattle commuter, but for now, the city continues to claim one of the worst commutes in the country.


Boston, too, has fallen victim to the results of poor infrastructure, leading to one of the nation’s worst commute times. According to CNBC, “In many ways, Massachusetts embodies the national infrastructure crisis. The state is racing to repair the worst structures like Boston’s Longfellow Bridge, which is undergoing a $3 billion restoration. But more than half of Massachusetts’ bridges remain deficient or worse.”

While Inrix claims that “increased traffic often comes hand-in-hand with economic advances,” it’s undeniable that these cities are also “at highest risk for consequences related to worsened traffic conditions, including reduced productivity, higher emissions and increased stress levels.”

Over 50% of the state’s bridges are in compromised conditions, and Boston commuters spend 64 hours in traffic per year. With commuters spending over 8 billion hours in traffic a year nationwide, states should look closely at the relationship between poor infrastructure and average commute.

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About The Author
Carson Buck
Carson is a real estate agent based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Carson loves data and market research, and how readily available it is in today's world. He is passionate about interpreting these insights to help his clients find and buy their perfect home. Carson got into the real estate industry because he loves the feeling of handing over the keys to a new home to happy clients. In his free time, he works on his backyard bonsai garden and spends time with his wife, Julia.