After two years of slight declines in overall traffic congestion as a result of the economic downturn and high fuel prices, a new report from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, says that leading indicators suggest that, as the economy rebounds, traffic problems are doing the same. However, TTI's 2010 Urban Mobility Report (UMR) drew criticism from Washington-based Transportation for America Director James Corless, who says flaws in the report's analysis could "lead to faulty conclusions about what the report indicates."

The UMR analyzes traffic congestion in 439 U.S. urban areas. It found that, while congestion and its effects lessened somewhat in 2008, the problem again began to grow in 2009. Congestion costs continue to rise, from $24 billion in 1982 to $115 billion in 2009 as measured in constant 2009 dollars.

The cost to the average commuter rose from $351 in 1982 to $808 in 2009 (figure adjusted for inflation). The total amount of wasted fuel in 2009 topped 3.9 billion gallons – equal to 130 days of flow in the Alaska Pipeline. Yearly peak delay for the average commuter was 34 hours in 2009, up from 14 hours in 1982.

The UMR also discusses the congestion reduction benefits of two solutions — public transportation and roadway operations. Without public transportation services, travelers would have suffered an additional 785 million hours of delay and consumed 640 million more gallons of fuel — a savings of $19 billion in congestion costs, according to the report. Roadway operational treatments that improve the flow of traffic, such as incident management systems, ramp metering and left hand turn lanes, save travelers 320 million hours of delay and 265 million gallons of fuel for a congestion cost savings of $8 billion.

The UMR recommends that transportation officials add roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it is needed most; encourage ideas like ridesharing and flexible work times to avoid traditional rush hours; and provide more choices, such as alternate routes, telecommuting and toll lanes for faster and more reliable trips.

However, Corless said in a statement that the UMR puts too much emphasis on increasing highway and road capacity. "[The UMR] assumes, for example, that everyone should be able to speed as rapidly down the highway during rush hour as they could in the middle of the night. American taxpayers will never stand for being asked to turn over their wallets and their neighborhoods in order to build that kind of highway capacity," Corless says. "They would much rather see Congress make more efficient use of their money by fixing crumbling roads and bridges; investing in technology to manage existing freeway traffic better; providing rail and rapid bus service in congested corridors; and linking transportation funding to smarter planning and development."

Download the full report and read Corless' entire statement.

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