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An annual study by a leading Transportation think tank suggests that too little progress is being made toward ensuring that the nation’s transportation system will be able to keep up with job growth when the economy does return.
According to the 2011 Urban Mobility Report (UMR), published by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, gridlock on our national highways continues to climb.
Despite a prolonged economic recession, the average commuter is estimated to see an additional 3 hours of delay by 2015 and 7 hours by 2020. By 2015, the cost of gridlock will rise from $101 billion to $133 billion – more than $900 for every commuter, and the amount of wasted fuel will jump from 1.9 billion gallons to 2.5 billion gallons – enough to fill more than 275,000 gasoline tanker trucks.
“If you invest in roads and transit, you get better service and access to more jobs,” says Tim Lomax, one of the study’s authors. “Traffic management and demand management should be part of the mix, too. Generally speaking, mobility investments in congested areas have a high return rate.”
That connection was well illustrated in the 1960s, when the nation experienced its longest uninterrupted expansion in history, fueled in part by federal investment in the Interstate Highway System.
The interstate highway system grew rapidly from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s and the U.S. economy grew along with it. Since then, growth in the interstate system has virtually stopped. “The only way U.S. companies have been able to keep their products competitive in the face of increasing traffic congestion and rising transportation costs is to squeeze every ounce of efficiency they can out of their supply chain, says TTI Research Scientist David Ellis. “But there is a limit to efficiency and without additional transportation capacity, transportation costs will increase significantly. The result will be higher prices and lost jobs.”
The UMR uses traffic volume data from the states and traffic speed data from INRIX, a leading private-sector provider of travel time information. The combination produces a thorough and detailed illustration of traffic problems in 439 U.S. urban areas.
A copy of the full report, along with data tables and other supporting materials, can be found at http://mobility.tamu.edu/.