Study finds traffic congestion increasing

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 08, 2001

Drivers in Los Angeles spend an average of 56 hours a year – more than a work week – stuck in traffic and two other California cities also rank among the nation’s top 10 cities with the heaviest traffic, a report says. 

Los Angeles ranks No. 1 in California, followed by San Francisco-Oakland and San Diego coming in sixth. 

“Energy shortages have caught the attention of California, but we also face a growing and potentially longer lasting roads crisis,” Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs, a nonprofit working to improve transportation in Northern California, said in a statement. “We need to invest more in our roads and highways to improve the mobility of both goods and people.” 

In a report by The Road Information Program, California motor travel increased by 16 percent from 1990 to 1999, and the population rose 11 percent, while lane mileage of streets and highways increased by 1.5 percent. 

In San Francisco, residents spent an average of 42 hours a year in traffic in 1999, up from 38 hours in 1997. San Jose residents also spend 42 hours a year gridlocked. 

In Atlanta, the figure is 53 hours, double that of just seven years ago, says a report documenting America’s nagging highway congestion. 

The report says Americans spend three times as much time in traffic as they did 20 years ago. Governments aren’t building enough roads to keep pace with the new businesses and new residents moving in, and people are continuing to move and work farther and farther away from downtown. 

The Texas Transportation Institute, in its annual report on congestion in 68 urban areas, found that the average person spent 36 hours a year sitting in traffic in 1999, up 11 hours in 1982. Rush hour has grown to six hours each day, three hours each morning and three hours each evening, twice as long as 1982. 

All this congestion comes with a price: $78 billion a year in wasted time and burned gasoline, according to the institute, part of Texas A&M University, which analyzed data compiled by 11 state highway departments. The institute ranked the areas according to the additional time it took motorists to drive during congested periods as compared with the rest of the day. 

Increased congestion has also led to a rise in road rage. In December, a woman received 13 years in prison for shooting another motorist to death on a highway exit ramp in suburban Birmingham, Ala. 

Los Angeles had the worst congested highways in the country, costing residents an estimated $1,000 per person in wasted time and wasted gas as they spent 56 more hours a year on crowded freeways than they would have had to spend on the roads if traffic moved freely. 

In the nation’s most populous urban area, New York City and its suburbs, the average resident sits in traffic an extra 34 hours a year and spends an average of $595 in wasted time and burning gas. 

In the Atlanta area, where the population grew by more than one-third between 1990 and 2000, the number of hours motorists sat in traffic more than doubled from 25 in 1992 to 53 in 1999. In 1982, the average Atlantan sat in traffic for just 11 hours. 

Nashville, Tenn., which saw its population rise by a quarter over the last decade, saw its congestion follow suit. The average resident there spent 42 extra hours in traffic in 1999, up from 15 hours seven years earlier. 

Residents in and around the District of Columbia were stuck in traffic, on the average, for an extra 46 hours in 1999, as compared to 44 hours in 1997. 

Research engineer Tim Lomax, a co-author of the Texas Transportation Institute study, said motorists seem to be willing to endure traffic jams in exchange for the freedom that comes with owning a car. 

“Gas is still relatively cheap. It’s free to park in a lot of places. It’s relatively easy to buy a car,” Lomax said.  

“Owning a car means you can go where you want to go pretty much when you want to go. It may take you longer than you want, but these freedoms are apparently ones that people are willing to suffer some congestion in order to have.” 

The Surface Transportation Policy Project, a coalition of public interest and professional organizations, said many residents have no choice but to drive. There are no express bus routes nor train systems that can take them from home to work. 

“We have plenty of communities where choice is not available,” said Roy Kienitz, the group’s executive director. “Rail goes just as fast full as empty.  

That is the ultimate technological difference between trains and roads.  

When roads get full, the trip gets slower, whereas a full train is just as fast as an empty one.”  

The transportation institute said congestion grew at a slower rate in communities that aggressively built new roads, but highway construction could not solve the problem alone. Mass transit, shifting some trips away from peak travel times, changing the timing of traffic signals, and telecommuting can all help reduce rush-hour traffic, the report said. 

“Adding roads has to be an element, but it can’t be the only thing,” Lomax said.  

“It’s difficult to find the money and the public approval and the environmental clearances necessary to sustain a really big road building program.” 

Still, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association cited the report as the group called for more highway construction. 

“Common sense dictates that additional highway capacity is necessary to meet the growth in the economy and population,” said Bill Buechner, the trade association’s vice president of economics and research. 


On the Net: 

Urban Mobility Report: http://mobility.tamu.edu