Cities should prepare transport for recovery

Texas A&M University study says that too little is being done to prepare for economic growth

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The slowdown in the US economy has taken the pressure off traffic problems in many areas but the 2011 Urban Mobility Report, published by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at Texas A&M University, says that too little is being done to prepare for the recovery.

The study, which is produced annually, indicates 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 improve.

Even with the economic downturn and consequent reduction in traffic congestion, the report reveals that the length of delay suffered by the average commuter in 2010 was 34 hours compared to 14 hours in 1982.

The TTI estimates that when economic growth returns, the average commuter will experience an additional three hours of delay by 2015 and seven hours by 2020.

City administrators eager to improve the economic performance of their city will be interested to learn that the cost of congestion is currently more than $100 billion – nearly $750 for every commuter in the US.

According to the TTI, 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.

Tim Lomax, one of the study's authors, said that city administrators need to consider infrastructure investment in the current economic environment. "If you invest in roads and transit, you get better service and access to more jobs," he said. "Traffic management and demand management should be part of the mix, too. Generally speaking, mobility investments in congested areas have a high return rate."

TTI Research Scientist David Ellis said that US companies have been able to retain competitiveness despite increasing traffic congestion and rising transportation costs by improving supply chain efficiency: "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."