NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 17, 2009

In 2007, for the first time in 16 years, congestion actually declined in America's 439 recognized urban areas, according to a report published by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI).

However, even though congestion dropped between 2006 and 2007:

  • It still forced urban Americans to travel for 4.2 billion extra hours and buy an extra 2.8 billion gallons of gas.
  • The cost of all these delays was $87.2 billion, an increase of more than 50 percent over 1997.

The problem affects metropolitan areas of all sizes, but big ones -- the country's economic engines -- are in the worst shape, says the Economist.  Drivers in Los Angeles suffer the most: in 2007 the average driver spent 70 hours inching along streets and freeways.

Declining congestion can be attributed to two main factors: rising fuel prices and, more recently, a slumping economy -- so the figures for 2008 and 2009, when they are compiled, will presumably be a lot better.   But neither development is welcome or permanent.   History suggests that as the economy rebounds, congestion will too, as shipments and commutes resume, says the Economist.

TTI points to simple steps that could help, such as shortening the response time to accidents.   In the long term, however, road pricing is surely the answer, says the Economist.  A driver now pays the same gas-tax-imposed price for roads, whether demand is high or low.   Society bears the costs of pollution and wasted time.  Road pricing is controversial -- a plan to introduce it in Manhattan was scuttled last year.  

Source: Editorial, "Traffic Congestion: Stalled," The Economist, July 9, 2009.

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