July 8, 2009
  

U.S. Traffic Congestion Tab Of $87.2 Billion In '07: Record Costs To Seattle Region

Matt Rosenberg

Added roadway and transit capacity, plus more toll lanes, telecommuting and flexible work hours are among the traffic congestion solutions recommended by researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in their 26th annual Urban Mobility Report, just released. Other recommendations include getting more efficiency out of existing surface transportation systems, and influencing development patterns to make walking, bicycling and transit more convenient. TTI, founded in 1950, is an internationally-recognized transportation research center based at Texas A & M University. The 2009 report is based on newly-analyzed 2007 data for 439 U.S. urban regions. In a summary of their findings, researchers noted that although travelers on average spent one less hour stuck in traffic in 2007 versus 2006 and wasted one less gallon of gas due to a slight downturn in traffic, the costs of congestion were still pronounced. The overall cost of U.S. traffic congestion in 2007, according to the report, totaled $87.2 billion in wasted fuel and lost productivity. There were 2.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel and 4.2 billion wasted hours.

TTI researchers warned that the historical trend of worsening congestion will return as the economy recovers. For the Seattle region however, the report shows that the price of traffic congestion continued to grow.

Data for Puget Sound in the new report show that the annual cost of jammed roadways here in 2007 was $1.59 billion, the highest ever since TTI's first Urban Mobility Report was issued, using data for 1982, when regional congestion costs for Puget Sound totaled $96 million.

According to the new report, annual congestion costs per Puget Sound peak traveler reached a new high in 2007 of $938, versus $127 in 1982. Total traffic delay for the Seattle region totaled 73.6 million person hours in 2007, up by a factor of more than six since 1982. Daily vehicle miles traveled on highways and arterial streets combined have more than doubled in the region since 1982, according to the report.

PSRC's "Transportation 2040" Findings

The urgency of the TTI's congestion-busting recommendations for the nation's major metro regions - and Puget Sound - is underscored by data in another report, the draft environmental impact statement of the Puget Sound Regional Council's "Transportation 2040" plan. The Executive Summary shows the region's four-county population is expected to reach 4.9 million by 2040, or 42 percent higher the 2006 baseline figure of 3.5 million. Jobs in the region are projected to grow to 3.1 million by 2040, up 1.1 million or 60 percent from the 2006 figure of 1.94 million. Housing units will increase from 1.48 million in 2006 to 2.3 million in 2040, and 63 percent of those will be single-family.

According to the PSRC's modeling (and depending which policies are implemented by decision-makers) from 2006 to 2040 the number of average daily vehicle trips will rise between 37 to 42 percent; and total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 18 to 39 percent, while per-capita VMT will decline from 1 to 16 percent. For all passenger trips in our region (this excludes freight), transit's mode share will rise from 2.9 percent in 2006 to between 4.2 and 5.2 percent in 2040. Walking and biking combined will rise from 10.4 percent of daily trips in 2006 to between 11.5 and 13.3 percent in 2040. Single- and multiple-occupant passenger vehicles, combined, will decline from 86.7 percent of daily trips in 2006 to between 81.5 and 84.3 percent in 2040. In other words, barring some sort of game-changing development such as a catastrophic disruption of the fuel supply, more than four out of five daily passenger trips in the region 30 years from now, will still be in vehicles.

Part Of The Solution: Highway Corridor Tolling

Well aware of the mobility challenges we face, the state legislature recently authorized a series of new studies which could lead to electronic variable-rate corridor tolling on several major Puget Sound highways to add missing links and help beat congestion. Variable rates are based on real-time congestion levels (preferably) or time of day; they are higher during peak periods and lower off-peak. These lanes would be free to transit and the tolls could be made either free or discounted to carpoolers with either two, or three or more passengers per vehicle. With implementation of more express toll lanes based on the new studies, prospects would be boosted for completion of a seamless system of express tolled lanes on all the region's major highways, and increased express bus service using those lanes.

Over time, it is possible the region could move to the next level of road user fees. This would entail a vehicle mileage charge on all highways and arterial streets, facilitated by on-board GPS technology in every vehicle, with discounts for off-peak travel and use of less-congested routes.

UPDATE: The Washington State Department of Transportation offers its own reaction to the new Urban Mobility Report.

9:35 AM |

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