States with the Worst Traffic in America

Traffic is bad, and in some states horrible

Written by Carly Hallman

Traffic is horrible, but not for the reasons you think: Americans waste an estimated $160 billion on the road each year, an average of $960 per motorist. Traffic leads to both wasted money and wasted time, cutting into spending and other economic factors. Traffic also often leads to road rage, which causes half of all fatal crashes (loss of life having the worst long-term economic impact). Considering that we as Americans drive an average of 29.2 miles per day, it’s in our best interest to keep the roads clear. So which states have the worst traffic, and which states handle their extra traffic best?

What are the worst states for traffic in the U.S.?

Our graphic measures the mileage of the states’ public roadways and compares these figures to the total number of registered automobiles (as of 2014). Using that ratio as a metric, these are the most and least congested states, traffic-wise:

Worst Traffic Congestion in America By State

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Which States Have the Worst Traffic Congestion

Conjestion Index is Based on Number of Registered Private, Public, and Commercial Vehicles Per Mile of Public Roadway in the United States (2014)

State Miles of Public Roadways Per State Total Registered Automobiles Congestion Index: Vehicles Per Mile
Alabama 102,018 5,366,844 52.61
Alaska 15,728 800,433 50.89
Arizona 65,593 5,588,014 85.19
Arkansas 102,595 2,778,660 27.08
California 225,531 28,686,646 127.20
Colorado 88,740 4,820,622 54.32
Connecticut 21,508 2,866,460 133.27
Delaware 6,407 957,669 149.47
Dist. of Col. 1,503 334,331 222.44
Florida 122,391 15,504,814 126.68
Georgia 127,492 8,155,107 63.97
Hawaii 4,439 1,393,259 313.87
Idaho 48,902 1,762,687 36.05
Illinois 145,761 10,393,503 71.31
Indiana 96,698 6,012,595 62.18
Iowa 114,173 3,596,530 31.50
Kansas 140,476 2,542,678 18.10
Kentucky 79,727 4,148,721 52.04
Louisiana 61,419 3,886,934 63.29
Maine (2) 22,916 1,194,661 52.13
Maryland 31,984 4,052,090 126.69
Massachusetts 36,384 4,994,439 137.27
Michigan 122,284 8,126,337 66.45
Minnesota (3) 138,767 5,223,189 37.64
Mississippi 75,792 2,067,806 27.28
Missouri 131,564 5,332,901 40.53
Montana 74,983 1,585,830 21.15
Nebraska 93,868 1,947,627 20.75
Nevada 42,815 2,240,498 52.33
New Hampshire 16,132 1,310,191 81.22
New Jersey 39,041 6,874,100 176.07
New Mexico 68,452 1,930,706 28.21
New York 114,807 10,903,620 94.97
North Carolina 106,305 7,876,030 74.09
North Dakota 87,088 870,731 10.00
Ohio 122,885 10,453,358 85.07
Oklahoma 112,673 3,517,806 31.22
Oregon 73,479 3,417,959 46.52
Pennsylvania 120,039 10,504,757 87.51
Rhode Island 6,027 864,762 143.48
South Carolina 76,301 4,017,611 52.65
South Dakota 82,576 1,032,705 12.51
Tennessee 95,561 5,495,647 57.51
Texas 313,596 20,877,026 66.57
Utah 46,153 2,150,573 46.60
Vermont 14,238 612,437 43.01
Virginia 74,901 7,160,097 95.59
Washington 81,417 6,405,483 78.68
West Virginia 38,760 1,553,192 40.07
Wisconsin 115,212 5,340,155 46.35
Wyoming 28,972 820,107 28.31
United States Total 4,177,073 260,350,938 62.33

Sources:
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2014/mv1.cfm
http://www.ipsr.ku.edu/ksdata/ksah/trans/15trans3x.pdf

  • The worst state for traffic is Hawaii, by a long shot. No other state even comes close. With only 4,439 miles of roadways and well more than a million registered vehicles, their ratio (313.87) dwarfs even the District of Columbia (222.44). Add in the influx of tourists driving on roads they’re not familiar with and it’s enough to make even laid-back islanders angry; they’re also rated as the first for road rage (by number of Instagram posts with the #roadrage tag).
  • In North Dakota, you’ll likely not see another driver for a good while. With almost 20 times the miles of roadways (87,088 miles) and roughly half a million fewer registered vehicles than Hawaii, North Dakota’s highways have become famous for being empty. It’s so lonely that locals created the Enchanted Highway to keep drivers entertained and occupied, and it’s one of our favorite roadside attractions.
  • Stereotypes don’t always apply. As a general rule, Northeastern states are more congested, and Midwestern states are less so. There are exceptions, of course, with California and Florida being pretty stressful to drive in. Meanwhile, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are practically stress-free compared to their neighbors.
  • The traffic in states doesn’t reflect their cities. While California might not rank very highly for congestion overall, the city of Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs ranks as one of the places with the most traffic in the entire world, among cities like Brussels, Antwerp, and San Francisco. (Honolulu also made that list.)

How do states combat the congestion?

By and large, the two main ways to combat traffic in the United States are to either improve the design of the roadways or to reduce the demand for cars (usually through public transportation policy). Many metrics are gathered by state governments to provide data on how and where to make necessary changes. States invest millions into data-gathering or adaptive technologies to try to combat the problem. Utah has implemented adaptive traffic signals. Cities like New York City have made an effort to give bikers a place to ride by providing bike lanes and encourage non-car transportation (though there is a great deal that can still be done in that regard). States like Texas use special lanes to reward carpooling drivers.

The problem is that since many Americans are moving to cities or their suburbs, the problem of traffic is likely to keep getting worse.

Hopefully, in the next few years, autonomous driving will make this whole conversation unnecessary. Until then, good luck, Hawaiians!


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