Policy Study

Mobility Project – State-by-State Analysis of Future Congestion and Capacity Needs – Massachusetts

How bad will traffic congestion be in 2030? How much construction and how many new lane miles will each state and major city need to add over the next 25 years to prevent severe congestion? And how much will it all cost? The Reason Foundation study Building Roads to Reduce Traffic Congestion in America’s Cities: How Much and at What Cost? and its addendum, A Detailed State-by-State Analysis of Future Congestion and Capacity Needs, provide in-depth answers to these questions. An interactive map ranking the states by congestion and costs to reduce traffic is here and a map of the most congested cities is here.


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To significantly reduce today’s severe congestion and prepare for growth expected by 2030, Massachusetts needs just over 1,960 new lane-miles at a total cost of $21.9 billion, in today’s dollars. That’s a cost of $145 per resident each year. Massachusetts ranks 16th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of most lane-miles needed and 8th in the total cost of those improvements. If the state made these improvements, it would save 184 million hours per year that are now wasted in traffic jams.

Massachusetts is home to the 21st most congested city in the United States, Boston (which shares this ‘honor’ with Minneapolis-St. Paul), where the Travel Time Index (TTI) is 1.34. This means that driving times during peak traffic hours are 34 percent longer than during off-peak times. Unless major steps are taken to relieve congestion, drivers in Beantown can expect to see a TTI of 1.62 by 2030, meaning they will experience travel delays far worse than even present-day Chicago.

Boston could significantly reduce congestion by adding about 1,500 new lane-miles by 2030 at an estimated cost of $20.3 billion in today’s dollars. This includes the costs of adding 15 percent of the new capacity by building elevated roadways and tunnels, which will be necessary in a densely settled location like Boston.

This investment would save an estimated 178 million hours per year that are now lost sitting in Boston traffic, at a cost of $4.56 per delay-hour saved. This does not account for the additional benefits not quantified in this study, including: lower fuel use, reduced accident rates and vehicle operating costs, lower shipping costs and truck travel time reductions, greater freight reliability, and a number of benefits associated with greater community accessibility, including an expanded labor pool for employers and new job choices for workers.

While $20.3 billion may sound like an unattainably large investment, it is actually only 42 percent of the amount that the Boston area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) already plans to spend in their long-range transportation plan. The Boston MPO plans to spend approximately $48.3 billion during the next 25 years—$4.5 billion on highway improvements and $43.8 billion on mass transit. Approximately 13.9 percent of Boston commuters now use mass transit, but transit accounts for 91 percent of the transportation spending.

As Table 27 shows, Massachusetts’ other urban areas are substantially less congested than Boston. However, the relative increase in delay projected over the next 25 years for these cities is still quite high. (The ‘delay’ in the travel time is the portion of the TTI over 1.0.) In Boston, the expected relative increase in traffic delay from 2003 to 2030 is 82 percent. However, all other urban areas in Massachusetts with populations over 50,000, except Springfield, can expect an increase in delay of more than 100 percent. Such dramatic increases will be sharply felt by local commuters. With projected TTIs of 1.09—1.12, cities like New Bedford, Worcester, and Barnstable Town are facing future traffic delays similar to those currently experienced in the much larger cities of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City, respectively.

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This information is excerpted from A Detailed State-by-State Analysis of Future Congestion and Capacity Needs and Building Roads to Reduce Traffic Congestion in America’s Cities: How Much and at What Cost?

Additional Resources:
» Reason Foundation’s Mobility Project Main Page
» Reason Foundation’s Transportation Research and Commentary
» Reason Foundation’s Press Room

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