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New York City traffic ranked the worst among the nation: Study

Traffic is shown on Flatbush Avenue in front

Traffic is shown on Flatbush Avenue in front of the new Barclays Center on opening night. (Getty) (Credit: Traffic is shown on Flatbush Avenue in front of the new Barclays Center on opening night. (Getty))

New York's traffic may be known to cause a few late dinners and headaches but it's costing the city billions and city drivers dozens of hours a year, according to a new study.

The average New York driver spent 59 hours stuck -- the fourth longest in the nation -- in traffic in 2011, according to the annual study by Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

When it comes to congestion, the tri-state area ranked worst, with a combined 544 million hours wasted on the bumper-to-bumper roads.

That traffic also takes a financial toll, according to the study's co-author David Schrank, as it costs the city $11.8 billion in economic activity because of gas, pollution and productivity loss.

Schrank said the cause is simple, the city's infrastructure just wasn't built to handle this many people.

"Population and demand in New York City has been outpacing the new transportation developments," he said.

Despite the high use of public transportation, the Big Apple produces 5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide during rush hours a year.

"You can't always get where you are going with public transportation especially in the outer boroughs," Schrank said.

The researcher said the best solution would be to create more major roadways to bypass the already crowded highways and Manhattan entryways.

He noted though that there isn't enough public capital to build quickly those roads in the city's dense space.

"When you're in an area that has been developed over 200 or 300 years, it becomes a difficult to provide more access," he said.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation said the agency's administrators hadn' tread the entire report but said it had various plans to ease traffic in Manhattan such as adjusting traffic signals in midtown.

Colin Cathcart, an urban studies professor at Fordham University, said the best way to combat the congestion would be to focus on improving the city's transit infrastructure. The long traffic jams don't compare to other cities like Los Angeles that have worse transit systems, he said.

"The congestion cost is a ton of money and what that is a measure of is how much New Yorkers would save if they invested more in transit," he said.

Schrank wouldn't rule out congestion pricing as a solution. In 2008, the state Assembly passed on taking up a bill that would have charged drivers $8 if they entered most of Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and used the money to pay for public transportation enhancements.

At the time, there was tremendous outcry from outer borough residents and leaders who feared cars would clutter their streets, however Schrank said that people's opinion might change.

"With the dollar as it is and the need for capital . . . we may end up doing congestion pricing," he said.

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The Texas A&M Transportation Institute's report on New York's traffic problems showed the city's major roadways have become progressively worse over the last few decades.

ANNUAL HOURS OF DELAY PER COMMUTER
1982 -- 11 (ranked 36th in nation)
1991 -- 23 (ranked 33rd)
2001 -- 38 (ranked 37th)
2011 -- 59 (ranked 4th)

ANNUAL CONGESTION COST
1982 -- 1.02M (ranked 2nd)
1991 -- $2.94M (ranked 2nd)
2001 -- $6.86M (ranked 2nd)
2011 -- $11.83M (ranked 1st)

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