Workers spent 4.8 billion hours slowed or stuck in traffic due to congestion during 2009, according to a recently released report from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M. That was an improvement over 2006, when a record 5.25 billion hours were wasted. But it still equates to an average of 34 extra hours per year on the road. "There's a real chance that congestion is going to get much worse, very fast," said David Schrank, a researcher and co-author of the survey. "Already, 2009 was an up tick from 2008 when 4.62 billion hours were wasted."

 The reason: good news on the economic front. A recovery will mean hiring and that will put more wheels on the roads. Many of those roads are already filled to near capacity. Of course, rising gas prices could temper the problem by keeping drivers home.

 The record year for time wasted in traffic was 2006, when the economy was humming and the national unemployment rate then was under 5%. Drivers that year languished an extra 5.2 billion hours on the roads.

 10 worst metro areas

While Los Angeles traffic has become the stuff of legend (commuters do lose an average of 63 hours a year to congestion there), the report identified Chicago and Washington., D.C., as the metro areas with the biggest congestion problems. Both burden commuters with an extra 70 hours of travel time a year beyond normal drive times.

L.A. was third, and the fourth worst congestion was in Houston, with 58 hours wasted. Baltimore was fifth with 50. Rounding out the top 10 were San Francisco (49), Dallas and Boston (both 48), Denver (47) and, tied for 10th, Atlanta and Seattle (44).

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