January 25, 2011 – Would you like some good news and bad news? The good news is, the economy is improving. The bad news is, as the economy improves, so does congestion. The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, just released its latest Urban Mobility Report, which concludes that after two years of slight declines in overall traffic congestion – attributable to the economic downturn and high fuel prices – leading indicators suggest that as the economy rebounds, traffic problems are doing the same. Highlights from the research illustrate the effects of the nation's traffic problems:
- Congestion costs continue to rise: measured in constant 2009 dollars, the cost of congestion has risen from $24 billion in 1982 to $115 billion in 2009.
- The total amount of wasted fuel in 2009 topped 3.9 billion gallons – equal to 130 days of flow in the Alaska Pipeline.
- Cost to the average commuter: $808 in 2009, compared to an inflation-adjusted $351 in 1982.
- Yearly peak delay for the average commuter was 34 hours in 2009, up from 14 hours in 1982.
The congestion-reduction benefits of two significant solutions are discussed—public transportation and roadway operations. Without public transportation services, travelers would have suffered an additional 785 million hours of delay and consumed 640 million more gallons of fuel—a savings of $19 billion in congestion costs. Roadway operational treatments save travelers 320 million hours of delay and 265 million gallons of fuel for a congestion cost savings of $8 billion.
Researchers recommend a balanced and diversified approach to reducing traffic congestion – one that focuses on more of everything. Their strategies include:
- Get as much use as possible out of the transportation system we have.
- Add roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it is needed most.
- Change our patterns, employing ideas like ridesharing and flexible work times to avoid traditional "rush hours."
- Provide more choices, such as alternate routes, telecommuting and toll lanes for faster and more reliable trips.
- Diversify land development patterns, to make walking, biking and mass transit more practical.
- Adopt realistic expectations, recognizing for instance that large urban areas are going to be congested, but they don't have to stay that way all day long.
I guess we have to take the good with the bad.