Policy Study

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

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, Colorado needs almost 4,670 new lane-miles at a total cost of $11.5 billion, in today’s dollars. That’s a cost of $110 per resident each year. Colorado ranks fourth out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of most lane-miles needed and 12th in the total cost of those improvements. If the state made these improvements, it would save 169 million hours per year that are now wasted in traffic jams.

Colorado is home to the ninth most congested city in the United States, Denver, where the Travel Time Index (TTI) is 1.40. This means that driving times during peak traffic hours are 40 percent longer than during off-peak times. Only eight cities in the country have worse traffic, and they’re all at least 30percent larger in population.

However, unless major steps are taken to relieve congestion, drivers in the Mile High City can expect to see a TTI of 1.80 by 2030, meaning they will experience travel delays far worse than even present-day Los Angeles.

Colorado could significantly reduce congestion by adding about 4,670 new lane-miles by 2030 (including some 4,000 in the Denver-Aurora area) at an estimated cost of $11.4 billion in today’s dollars. This includes the costs of adding 3 percent of the new capacity by building elevated roadways and tunnels, which will be necessary in the more densely packed city areas.

This investment would save an estimated 153 million hours per year that are now lost sitting in Denver traffic, at a cost of $2.60 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 $11.4 billion may sound like an unattainably large investment, it is actually only 13 percent of the amount that the Denver area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) already plans to spend in its long-range transportation plan alone, and less than half of the funds allocated to transit. The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) plans to spend approximately $87.8 billion during the next 25 years—$53.9 billion on highway improvements and $23.4 billion on mass transit. Approximately 4.3 percent of Denver commuters now use mass transit, but 27 percent of funds are allocated to transit. While some of the planned highway improvement funding may be used for capacity expansion, the majority is often allocated to preserving, maintaining, and operating the highway system.

As Table 11 shows, Colorado’s other urban areas are substantially less congested than Denver. However, the relative increase in delay projected over the next 25 years for these cities is actually higher than that for Denver. (The ‘delay’ in the travel time is the portion of the TTI over 1.0.) In Denver, the expected relative increase in traffic delay from 2003 to 2030 is 100 percent. However, all other smaller urban areas in Colorado listed in Table 11 can expect an increase in delay of 100 percent or more, which will be sharply felt by local commuters. With TTIs of around 1.09, Fort Collins, Pueblo, Greeley, Grand Junction and Longmont are facing future traffic delays similar to those currently experienced in much larger cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. And Colorado Springs and Boulder have some significant traffic challenges on the horizon with expected TTIs of 1.43 (as high as present-day Miami) and 1.17 (as high as present-day El Paso), 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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