Report: Chokehold of Traffic congestion.(FRIDAY HOME GUIDE)(CLICKS &Amp; MORTAR)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Report: Chokehold of Traffic congestion.(FRIDAY HOME GUIDE)(CLICKS &Amp; MORTAR)


Byline: M. Anthony Carr, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It was timely that the 2002 Mobility Report (http:// mobility.tamu.edu/ums/) came out the week I was driving cross-country with five persons in a packed minivan.

The 19 years of data in the Urban Mobility Study are used to identify trends and examine issues related to urban traffic congestion.

The fact that my van's air conditioning in 90-degree weather kept grinding to a halt from Virginia to Illinois won't affect my position on this report from the Texas Transportation Institute. But the marketing emphasis in Gary, Ind., highway billboards on strip joints and fast-food restaurants left an impression upon me that the folks who live in Middle America don't react to political pressure the way residents and politicians do in the Washington area.

The decisions made on national transportation policies are largely made inside the Beltway, far away from the turnpikes that move business and pleasure travelers across the country. The Beltway encircles the political and social life of our nation's politicians much the same way the pioneers would protect against attacks by pulling the wagons into a protective circle.

This four-lane to six-lane highway is 64 miles long. The Urban Mobility Study's 2000 Roadway Congestion Index ranks the region served by the Beltway as the third worst in the nation behind the Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland areas. Along these lanes, there are no billboards. They're not allowed, you see, by the political establishment.

For years, local jurisdictions have fought each other on how to best use this highway to move 4 million people around the region.

Virginia has made the tough decisions to condemn some structures for broadening the road during the past 40 years to its current six lanes. Maryland, on the other hand, has experienced as much population growth but has consistently refused to widen the Beltway at some bottleneck points. Therefore, every morning we tune in to traffic reports of backups and accidents on the Maryland side that don't appear to plague the Virginia side.

It is from this environment that the decisions are made on how to spend federal highway dollars.

The Mobility Report looks at 75 cities and their congestion problems.

Some of the facts are self-evident. Congestion is growing in areas of every size. Many more trips are accommodated on the transportation system, and it's costing travelers time and money. Here are some of the hard facts comparing 1982 and 2000:

* Average annual delay for each traveler at peak times climbed from 16 hours to 62 hours. …

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