Study: Many Cities Face Los Angeles-like Traffic Jams

Traffic delays to increase by over 65 percent; $533 billion worth of road capacity needed in US; Plan would save 7.7 billion hours that are wasted in traffic each year
Los Angeles (August 31, 2006) — How bad is your commute going to get? A lot worse.

Traffic delays will increase 65 percent and the number of congested lane-miles on urban roads will rise by 50 percent over the next 25 years.

Los Angeles, home to the nation's worst traffic today, will continue to have the longest delays, with trips during peak hours taking nearly twice as long as they do when roads are free-flowing. But LA won't be alone. Several cities face the dubious honor of having Los Angeles-like gridlock.

By 2030, drivers in 11 metro areas — Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Portland, San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle-Tacoma, and Washington, D.C. — will be stuck in daily traffic jams that are as bad as or worse than today's infamous bottlenecks in Los Angeles, according to a new Reason Foundation study. In those cities it will take at least 75 percent longer to make a trip during peak hours than off-peak periods. So, for example, a trip that is supposed to take 30 minutes would take over 52 minutes.

Today, only four cities (LA, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.) experience travel time delays of even 50 percent. But, because road capacity is failing to keep up with demand and population growth, the Reason study finds that a whopping 30 cities will be experiencing daily delays that make rush hour trips 50 percent longer than off-peak journeys. Los Angeles and the other 11 cities listed above will be joined in congestion purgatory by Austin, Boston, Bridgeport-Stamford (CT), Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Houston, New York City-Newark (NJ), Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix-Mesa, Riverside-San Bernardino, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Jose, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Tucson.

And even in smaller cities, traffic congestion will worsen substantially over the next two decades. Boise, Idaho, for instance, will see its congestion more than double and Albany, New York, will experience almost triple its current congestion levels.

To prevent or relieve this severe congestion that seriously threatens our economy, U.S. freeways and arterials need 104,000 additional lane-miles of capacity (about 6 percent more than current lane-miles), at a total cost of $533 billion over 25 years, according to the Reason report.

The good news is that this investment would save drivers a stunning 7.7 billion hours annually. And our current traffic - and the looming congestion — can be reduced with just a fraction of the money we are already committing to transportation projects.

The $533 billion price tag breaks down to slightly more than $21 billion per year, but that figure represents just 10 to 15 percent of the money we're projected to spend as part of the highway program over the next 25 years. It is also just 28 percent of planned spending in existing long-range plans of major urban transportation agencies. And it works out to about $2.76 per hour of delay saved, just 1/10 the cost of federally funded transit lines.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is possible for America to 'build out' of severe congestion, and it is relatively inexpensive to do so," said David Hartgen, the study's lead author and a professor of transportation studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "The bottom line is that if we want to reduce congestion, or even simply maintain our current levels of traffic, we will need to seriously reexamine what is presently planned for our roads."

"We will be spending billions on transportation projects in the coming years, but after population growth and increased truck traffic our congestion will actually be far worse, if we spend those billions as now planned," said Robert Poole, director of transportation at Reason Foundation and the study's project director. "We must prioritize and focus our transportation funding where it can do the most good. We know the vast majority of Americans need to drive cars and that truckers haul 80 to 90 percent of our economy's goods. Unless we take significant action to add capacity where commuters have shown they want and need it, our economy and quality of life will take a pounding from congestion."

The study highlights how a number of metro areas seem to be ignoring the commuting and transportation trends in their areas. Instead of reducing congestion by adding capacity on the roads and freeways used by taxpayers, many planners are crossing their fingers and hoping to get people to shift behavior and leave their cars behind. In highly decentralized Los Angeles, where just 4.8 percent of people use transit to commute, over half of the long-range plan money - $66.9 billion — is being spent on transit. The transit spending is nearly identical to the money ($67.7 billion) needed to relieve the area's severe congestion.

Likewise, cities such as San Jose and Salt Lake City, where transit's share of commuting is less than 3 percent, are nevertheless committing over half of their long-range transportation funds to transit.

"Increased capacity is the most important need. Toll roads and variable-priced lanes, traffic signal optimization, improved accident management, and — where justified by ridership numbers — better transit, should all be part of our transportation solution mix," Hartgen added. "It is vital that all transportation projects be evaluated on cost effectiveness and hours of delay saved."

The Reason Foundation study uses national congestion figures, detailed transportation data provided by 32 cities, and sophisticated, state-of-the-art computer modeling to calculate traffic statistics for 403 U.S. cities.

Full Report Online

The full study, Building Roads to Reduce Traffic Congestion in America's Cities: How Much and at What Cost?, is available online at www.reason.org/ps346.pdf. A complete state-by-state breakdown featuring detailed information on over 400 U.S. cities, including maps, projected congestion, lane-miles needed, and construction costs can be found at www.reason.org/ps346/index.shtml. Reason's transportation research and commentary is available at www.reason.org/transportation.

About Reason

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. For more information, please visit www.reason.org.

Reason's Galvin Mobility Project

This study is the first in a series of Reason Foundation Galvin Mobility Project reports detailing our transportation crisis and developing practical, cost-effective solutions to traffic congestion. Reason's Mobility Project will offer comprehensive policy recommendations to enhance mobility and help local officials implement effective transportation plans.

Contacts

David T. Hartgen, Ph.D., P.E., Professor of Transportation Studies, UNC Charlotte, (704) 687-5917
Chris Mitchell, Media Relations, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109




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