According to data released today, North Carolinians in the Triangle area wasted 19.5 million hours of additional time stuck on the roads, and 12 million gallons of additional gas as a result of traffic congestion in 2007. The wasted time and fuel cost the public an equivalent of $421 million, according to the Urban Mobility Report produced by the Texas Transportation Institute. The delays experienced in Charlotte were even greater, with the wasted time and fuel costing the public the equivalent of $525 million.
The report puts numbers on how much worse traffic congestion would be if not for public transportation within the metro area. The Triangle’s public transit lines prevented 723 thousand hours of delays compared to if public transportation hadn’t provided alternative ways for commuters to travel without their cars – a savings worth $15.5 million.
Nationally, public transportation ridership increased 38 percent between 1995 to 2008 and is at a 52-year high.
According to Allison Cairo at NCPIRG, “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.“ Cairo added that, “each full bus can get fifty cars off the road; each full hundreds more. All drivers across North Carolina 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 Triangle’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. 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.
“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 Cairo. “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. North Carolina’s population is expected to grow by about 2 million people over the next twenty years, so the need for good long-term solutions will become even more pressing.”
Congress is scheduled to address funding for transportation priorities this summer before the current six-year transportation bill expires.