Information from the AP was used in this report
At 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, few places feel worse than some interstates in Atlanta. Like maybe I-285 across the north side or the Downtown Connector.
But the good news is it could be worse.
Atlanta had the seventh worst commute in the nation in 2011, according to a new study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
This latest data shows traffic congestion in metro Atlanta causes drivers to spend an extra 51 hours a year behind the wheel.
That ranking has stayed relatively steady since 2008. Before the bottom fell out of the economy, Atlanta ranked in the top five.
The worst commute in the country? Washington. Commuters in the nation's capital needed almost three hours for a trip that should take 30 minutes without traffic, according to the report. That compares to the least congested city — Pensacola, Fla. — where commuters needed only nine extra minutes.
The other cities that have more traffic congestion than us are Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, New York-Newark, Boston and Houston.
The study also found that each Atlantan burns $1,120 per year in traffic jams. That is also seventh worst in the country.
All drivers burn up 63 million gallons of gas a year.
The institute, part of Texas A&M University, uses 30 years of traffic data, and its annual reports are one of the key tools used by experts to solve traffic problems. Researchers study how commuters adapt their travel plans when they have urgent appointments in highly congested areas based on data gathered from state transportation agencies, private companies and academic entities that monitor traffic issues.
The study also found that DOT sensors and cameras improve traffic flow and Atlanta has what's known as reliable congestion, which means commuters are able to routinely plan their daily delays.
Overall, the nation's commuters are adapting to increasing traffic congestion by building delays into their schedules, but at a cost of $121 billion in wasted time and fuel, according to the annual study.
The report found that Americans wasted an average of $818 each sitting in traffic in 2011. That also meant more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.
On average, Americans allowed for an hour of driving time for a trip that would take 20 minutes without traffic. The total nationwide added up to 5.5 billion additional hours that Americans spent in their cars during 2011.
When all costs are totaled, the cost of traffic congestion to Americans was up $1 billion over 2010 for a total of $121 billion. For commercial truck drivers alone, wasted time and diesel fuel amounted to $27 billion.
New to the report this year is the amount of additional carbon dioxide that gets released into the atmosphere because of clogged roads. In 2011, that total was 56 billion pounds of additional carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of 380 pounds per commuter. Atlanta ranks 11th on this list.
The statistic "points to the importance of implementing transportation improvements to reduce congestion," researcher and co-author David Schrank said.
The study also determined that Americans burned 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline while sitting in congestion, a slight improvement over the peak in 2005 when commuters wasted 3.2 billion gallons.
Researchers said 2005 remains the worst year recording for traffic congestion, but warn that recent improvement may be directly related to the recession. As the economy picks up again, the study's authors warn, so might road congestion.
The institute notes that every community is unique and requires different, multi-faceted approaches to solving congestion.