Traffic congestion is choking our cities, strangling our economy, and reducing our quality of life. Rush-hour delays rob us of time with our families, and commute times often dictate where we live and work. The impact our inadequate transportation network has on our economy is alarming. We waste an estimated $168 billion annually in time and fuel, productivity losses, cargo delays, accidents and environmental impacts while sitting in traffic.
This project is premised upon the conviction that the consequences of ignoring this threat will be dire. Inaccessibility leads directly to the depreciation of commercial and personal property values. This along with the gridlock will lead to the death of major cities in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world by mid-century if dramatic change is not implemented. But just as cardiac surgery can sustain our circulatory systems, we can prevent these clogged arteries that will stop the economic heart of cities from pumping.
The Galvin Project and the Reason Foundation have joined forces to develop practical, cost-effective solutions to traffic congestion, a policy initiative that will save our cities and significantly increase our urban mobility through innovative engineering, value pricing, public-private partnerships, and innovations in performance and management.
The old canard “we can’t build our way out of congestion” is not true. Adding innovative new capacity and improving the management of roads can eliminate chronic congestion.
A substantial new industry is developing as the private sector captures the opportunity in the value of our time wasted in traffic and seeks to profit from affordable and uncongested tollways. Public-private partnerships to build and operate these toll facilities have sparked innovations in engineering and design, overcoming obstacles such as limited right-of-way and noise pollution. Capital markets also provide access to much needed investment capital and ensure that new highway capacity is built where it is most needed.
In addition to adding road capacity, changing the way highways are managed can help to maximize the use of the capacity we have. The introduction of Intelligent Transportation System technologies can speed resolution to traffic delays, and electronic toll collection technologies can make extensive tolling practical. More importantly, variable pricing of lanes can keep traffic flowing all day by responding to changing demand.
Any city that ignores the threat and refuses to take up the challenge of eliminating congestion will find itself at an economic standstill by mid-century. We can solve our congestion woes. We can upgrade to an innovative, market-driven, world-class transportation infrastructure. We can change the institutions that guide our transportation decisions to create greater responsiveness, robustness, and efficiency. This project provides the ideas and tools needed to make change happen.
Getting From Here to There
Restoring the primacy of a congestion free and continuously improving transportation network will require substantial investment in existing and new technology, including:
- Widening surface roads where possible.
- Synchronizing traffic signals.
- Improving accident and road incident clearings.
- Building networks of congestion-priced lanes on existing freeway networks to provide “congestion insurance” to travelers.
- Assigning truck only routes where justified on existing and new road facilities.
- Expanding public transportation for its limited applications.
- Assigning and creating “bypass” roads that provide quick, efficient access to locations within neighborhoods and cities.
- Building new limited-access highways, financed through tolls and private capital, to meet increasing travel demand in cities and regions.
- Metering highway access ramps to regulate traffic entering the roadway.
- Adopting traffic circles and modifications in interchange designs.
- Adding new physical road capacity by investing in tunnels, elevated expressways and building new functional classes of roads the move regional traffic more quickly.
- Investing in new technologies such as composite materials and off site, pre-fabricated construction to reduce the cost and increase the speed of investments in new capacity and infrastructure.
- Encouraging the adoption of new technologies to increase the safe travel speeds of cars, trucks, and other vehicles on roads including adaptive cruise control, GPS lane and speed monitoring.
- Others technologies and strategies that have yet to be identified.
Implications of Inaction
U.S. cities can not afford to wait. Congestion must be eliminated to ensure the economic competitiveness and viability of our cities. More importantly, transportation policy must be refocused on the goal of sustainably improving mobility over the long run.
Avoiding the economic death of cities by 2050 will require putting these primary changes in process now for completion by mid-century.
While these goals are ambitious, they are not unattainable. Numerous industries have made equally spectacular accomplishments by harnessing the capital and creative energy of the private sector. Consider air travel, cell phones, personal computers, medical advancements, etc. Congestion free ground travel may best them all!