Require MPOs to Compare Current and Future Congestion

Commentary

Require MPOs to Compare Current and Future Congestion

Over the next two weeks Reason Foundation will highlight six national surface transportation policies that need to be changed. Today’s topic focuses on congestion relief in metro areas. The proposal requires MPOs to compare future congestion levels with the present-day baseline congestion level. This may sound obvious, but in preparing their federally required long-range transportation plans, most MPOs do not do this. They often cite reducing congestion as one of the plan’s goals, and often report how bad congestion is today (the baseline year for their modeling efforts). But you will almost never find out whether congestion in 2035 or 2040 (whatever horizon year they use in the modeling) will be reduced-i.e., less than it is now. If future congestion is addressed at all, what is compared is what congestion would be in that future year under a hypothetical “no-build” scenario, versus what the modeling projects it would be if the full Plan is implemented. More details are available here.

It’s not as if the elaborate traffic modeling doesn’t have the data needed to compare congestion under the Plan with congestion today. It’s just that those writing the document voted on by the MPO board disguise the fact that in just about every case, the level of congestion will be worse once the billions have been spent on transportation improvements than it is today. What that means is that a large share of the transportation “investments” are planned for nice-to-have things like a region-wide bicycle network that will do next to nothing to reduce congestion, rather than on replacing bottleneck interchanges, building an express toll lanes network, and providing region-wide express bus service-all of which actually would reduce congestion.

Gullible voters/taxpayers are easily misled into thinking that a multi-billion-dollar two-decade transportation plan whose goals include congestion reduction will actually make their streets and expressways less congested. This proposed change in the regulations for long-range transportation plans is intended to make clear to citizens whether or not their plan would actually reduce congestion from the levels that exist today. More details are available here.

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.