Traffic Congestion Badly Hurts Georgia

Nationwide Study Shows Need for Public Transit

Georgia PIRG Education Fund

According to data released today, Atlantans wasted 135 million hours of additional time stuck on the roads, and 96 million gallons of additional gas as a result of traffic congestion in 2007. The wasted time and fuel cost the public an equivalent of $3 billion, according to the Urban Mobility Report produced by the Texas Transportation Institute. 

The report puts numbers on how much worse traffic congestion would be if not for public transportation within the metro area. The region’s public transit lines prevented 10.474 million hours of delays compared to if public transportation hadn’t provided alternative ways for commuters to travel without their cars – a savings worth $224.8 million.

Nationally, public transportation ridership increased 38 percent between 1995 and 2008, and is at a 52-year high.

According to Sandra Glaze at Georgia PIRG, “Traffic congestion is like a tax that we all pay, sapping our time and money. We need to give people better alternatives, particularly more and better public transportation.”  Glaze added that, “Each full bus can get fifty cars off the road; each full train hundreds more. All drivers across Georgia should demand better public transportation, even if they won’t be able to use it themselves.”

The report calculates mobility and traffic congestion on freeways and major streets in 439 urban areas and is the most established source on the southeast’s traffic conditions. Nationally, traffic congestion led to 4.2 billion hours worth of wasted time, nearly an entire work week per commuter, wasting 2.8 billion gallons of gas for a total of $87.2 billion. If not for public transportation across the country, drivers would have suffered 646 million hours worth of road delays, a 14 percent increase in total delay.

While traffic congestion worsened steadily since the report first began tracking travel time in 1982, in 2007 urban commuters across the country in 2007 spent on average an hour less stuck in traffic and consumed a gallon of gas less because of time stuck in traffic. In addition to the growing average length of commuting trips, congestion forces drivers to allocate additional time to avoid being late when traffic problems become increasingly unpredictable.

According to a separate Brookings Institution study, 2007 was the first year that per-capita driving miles declined.  Here in Georgia, per-capita vehicle miles traveled declined 6.7 percent from December 2006 to September 2008.  Together, these studies show that a small reduction in vehicle miles travelled can mean big reductions in traffic congestion – especially when the auto trips are removed at the kind of choke points that public transportation best reduces.

Georgia also remains one of the fastest growing states in the nation.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia grew 18.3 percent from April 2000 to July 2008.  Georgia’s population is projected to increase from 8.9 million as of July 1, 2005 to over 12 million as of July 1, 2030 — a 34 percent increase.  Longer term transportation solutions are needed that cannot be addressed by simply building more and wider roads. 

“For decades, government has tried to fight traffic congestion by building more and wider roads, which just increases congestion at choke points. This report is further evidence of the folly of that approach.” said Glaze.  “We need to prioritize expanding bus and rail systems that reduce the number of drivers on the road. Doing so will reduce our nation’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels and address congestion problems before they cripple our metro areas.”

Congress is scheduled to address funding for transportation priorities this summer before the current six-year transportation bill expires.