Travel Volume Sets New Record, Trucking Shows Strong Gains

by: Mark J. Perry
The Federal Highway Administration reported recently that travel on all roads and streets in the U.S. increased by +1.5% in September compared to the same month last year. Total travel for the month of September was estimated at 247.8 billion vehicle miles, the highest travel volume ever for the month of September. The September increase in traffic was the fourth consecutive monthly increase compared to the same month last year, and the sixth increase in the last seven months.

On a moving 12-month total basis, the annual vehicle-distance traveled through September was 2,990 billion miles, the highest 12-month total since August 2008, more than two years ago (see chart).

Following a sharp decline in U.S. traffic volume (moving 12-month basis) that started in late 2007 and ended at a cyclical low in May 2009, traffic volume has been gradually increasing as both personal and commercial travel on U.S. roads and highways have rebounded (see graph above). Note that the cyclical pattern of traffic pattern over the last three years, especially the sharp decline from late 2007 to May 2009, coincided almost perfectly with the official U.S. recession period from December 2007 to June 2009 (shaded area in graph). The sustained and ongoing improvements in vehicle miles since the summer of 2009, along with a record-high volume for the month of September, indicate that the U.S. economy is recovering gradually, and the chances of a double-dip recession are negligible.

In related traffic news, the American Trucking Association reported last week that its Truck Tonnage Index rose 6% in October on an annual basis, following a 5.3% year-over-year gain in September. There were also month-to-month gains of 0.8% in October and 1.8% in September. Year-to-date trucking tonnage is up 6.1 percent compared to last year.