Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Press Release

Drivers log nearly 60 billion miles on Wisconsin roadways last year

Statewide vehicle miles traveled last year up 400 million miles compared to 2012

By - Aug 6th, 2014 04:10 pm

Drivers travelled about 59.5 billion miles in Wisconsin last year, an increase of nearly 400 million miles compared to 2012. Traffic forecasters with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) attribute the increase in vehicle miles travelled (VMT) to growth in commercial vehicle traffic and to the state’s population.

Over the last 45 years, Wisconsin’s population increased about 30 percent (from about 4.4 million in 1970 to 5.7 million today). Over the same period, Wisconsin VMT has more than doubled (130 percent increase) from 25.9 billion miles travelled in 1970 to 59.5 billion miles today. The nearly 60 billion miles motorists travelled on Wisconsin roadways last year is equal to about 317 round-trips between the Earth and sun. Last year, the average Wisconsin resident traveled 10,359 miles.

VMT is a commonly-used measure of highway use and demand that assists in long-range transportation planning. It provides a broad or aggregate picture of overall travel and is calculated by combining data on statewide fuel consumption, average vehicle gas mileage and traffic count information. WisDOT incorporates data from more than 25,000 traffic count locations across the state.

Traffic forecasters can also calculate current and future Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) – information that is used to help plan and design a specific highway, intersection or bridge improvement. AADT is influenced by several local factors including land use and population.

More information on Wisconsin’s 2013 VMT data, including a county by county breakdown can be found on the WisDOT website (www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/counts/vmt.htm).

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8 thoughts on “Drivers log nearly 60 billion miles on Wisconsin roadways last year”

  1. Tyler A says:

    Local road usage increased nearly 560 million miles between 2012 and 2013 while state highways saw a decrease of nearly 160 million miles.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Tyler Interesting. And I noticed Milwaukee County actually saw a decline.

  3. Tim says:

    It’s interesting to compare the VMT in Dane County vs Milwaukee County. With Milwaukee County having almost 2x the population, it seems Dane County is very close in VMT.

    Dane – 4,851,196,750
    Milwaukee – 5,875,848,840

    If Dane continues to grow its sprawl without offering more travel options, they could overtake Milwaukee County in VMT.

  4. Tom D says:

    Be careful when comparing Dane and Milwaukee Counties. At about 1,200 square miles, Dane County is about 5x bigger than Milwaukee County. In fact, Dane County is 99% as large (in area) as the 3 WOW counties combined.

    This means that much of Dane County is still very rural (with many real farms) and therefore has very different driving patterns than Milwaukee County, which is 100% urban or suburban.

    Also, Madison is growing so much faster than Milwaukee that Dane County will likely become Wisconsin’s most populated county in a few decades.

  5. Tim says:

    I understand the makeup of Dane county is more mixed between urban/suburban/rural, however, that is a huge difference in VMT/capita. I wonder how many state dollars go to fix their many roads for few people, is that something the rest of the state should have to pay for?

    Also, Dane County has been decades away from overtaking the Milwaukee metro for decades. I’m sure it’ll happen right around the time cold fusion is powering our hover cars.

  6. Tom D says:

    Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) includes mileage from people passing through on major highways. In Milwaukee that includes through drivers on I-94 and I-43 plus people switching between them (like somebody driving from Chicago to Green Bay on I-94/I-43).

    Madison has more “passing thru” drivers than Milwaukee simply because Madison has more major highway corridors into and out of town. (Milwaukee is hurt in this regard because Lake Michigan prevents access from the East.) Also, Dane (unlike Milwaukee) has a major cross-country Interstate highway (I-90) passing through. (I-94 isn’t a major cross-country highway in Milwaukee; even you are taking I-94 from Minneapolis to Detroit, you bypass Milwaukee via I-90 between Madison and Chicago.)

    This large number of “passing thru” drivers is compounded by the fact that Dane is so much bigger than Milwaukee. For example if you drive from Fond du Lac to Dubuque, you rack up over 50 VMT in Dane County alone; there is no way anybody can ever drive anywhere close to 50 miles within Milwaukee County just passing through.

    Finally, Madison’s bus system compares well to MCTS these days. Because MCTS is County-funded, you’d expect it to serve the entire County, but just try to find a bus in Franklin or River Hills. MCTS even short-changes broad swathes of the City (like Brown Deer Road west of 100th Street).

    Madison’s bus system (“Metro”) is city-owned and funded and actually serves ALL of the City with at least hourly service 365 days/year. They maintain 5 outlying transfer points which offer timed connections (most connections involve waiting less than 5 minutes).

    And while MCTS can’t ever seem to go beyond the County (except for Brookfield Square), Metro continues to expand beyond the City (by persuading suburbs to subsidize the added service).

    And unlike MCTS, Metro continues to grow. Look at passenger miles, for example. Between 2002 and 2012 (the latest 10-year data I could find), MCTS passenger miles dropped 21% while Metro’s grew 57%. In terms of passenger miles, Metro was only 20% as big as MCTS in 2002, but by 2012, Metro was 40% as big (and growing fast).

  7. Tom D says:

    As to whether (and when) Dane County will become bigger than Milwaukee…

    If you look at the trends in the last few US Censuses, Dane County is indeed ready to surpass Milwaukee County in about 50 years. Between 2000 and 2010, Dane grew 14.4% while Milwaukee grew 0.8%. If those rates continue, Dane will have 997,110 people in 2063 vs 988,891 in Milwaukee.

    If you think those numbers are flukes, then use the 1990 and 2010 numbers (when Dane grew 33.0% while Milwaukee shrunk 1.2%). Extrapolating those numbers, Dane catches Milwaukee by 2055 (926,511 in Dane vs 922,275 in Milwaukee).

    If you look at 3-year trends (2013 Census estimates vs 2010 Census) or 30-year trends (2010 Census vs 1980 Census), you get similar results–Dane County becomes Wisconsin’s most populous county in about 50 years (between 2057 and 2067).

    Many Milwaukeeans have a hard time accepting that Dane County will ever surpass Milwaukee County in population–much less within their lifetimes–or that (a few decades later) Madison will become Wisconsin’s most populous city. But, given the trends of the last 30 years, both will happen.

    People in New York were shocked when California passed them in 1970, just as Clevelanders were surprised when Columbus passed them in 1990. Milwaukeeans will be shocked, too.

  8. Andy says:

    Most people on this site recognize that city populations are a poor stat to use when judging the size of cities. The Madison MSA is about one third the size of Milwaukee’s. Even in 50 years, ignoring the enormous changes that occur during that time that can sway the results, the metro Madison area population will not pass Milwaukee’s. The population of the city proper is just a function of the amount of open farmland within city limits. Rather pointless…

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