Report: More jobs means more traffic
For the past two years, most big cities have seen a slight decline in overall traffic congestion as a result of the economic downturn and high fuel prices, but that trend is expected to change as the economy improves, according to a new report from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. In response, city planners are working to meet the return to pre-recession congestion with expanded road capacity and more public transit options.
TTI's 2010 Urban Mobility Report (UMR), which analyzes traffic congestion in 439 U.S. urban areas, found that, while congestion and its effects lessened somewhat in 2008, the problem again began to grow in 2009. Congestion costs continue to rise, from $24 billion in 1982 to $115 billion in 2009 as measured in constant 2009 dollars.
Traffic congestion in Orlando, Fla., remains lower than before the recession, says David Grovdahl, director of transportation planning for the MetroPlan Orlando regional transportation partnership. However, he expects more vehicles to hit the road in the coming years as the state's employment figures improve, and MetroPlan Orlando is taking some steps to prepare.
The agency has a prioritized list of highways and roads to improve to provide more capacity, Grovdahl says. The three-county metro area also will benefit from the planned Sun Rail commuter rail line and some high-speed rail.
Still, as the UMR recommends, planners must have realistic expectations, Grovdahl says. “You can't eliminate congestion in all locations, and large urban areas will continue to be congested,” he says.
The Chicago Metro Agency for Planning plans to expand interstate and highway capacity, and to make improvements to the city's Red Line commuter rail service as part of its “Go to 2040” comprehensive plan, says senior planner Tom Murtha. It also is working with local communities to plan improvements near and around the transit system, such as clustering development close to transit. “The more people we can get on these transit services, the fewer people we have on the roads, the less congestion we're going to have,” Murtha says.
The cost of congestion
The cost of getting to work for the average commuter rose from $351 in 1982 to $808 in 2009 (figure adjusted for inflation).
The total amount of wasted fuel in 2009 topped 3.9 billion gallons — equal to 130 days of flow in the Alaska Pipeline.
Peak-hour traffic-related delays for the average commuter was 34 hours a year in 2009, up from 14 hours in 1982.
Without public transportation services, travelers would have been delayed an additional 785 million hours and consumed 640 million more gallons of fuel.