America’s worst traffic bottlenecks pinpointed

News American Highway Users Alliance February 19, 2004
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As Congressional debate continues on long-overdue highway legislation needed to fund road and bridge improvement projects for the next six years, a new report is sparking added urgency by ranking the nation’s worst highway bottlenecks. The report, an update of a study originally conducted in 1999, specifically quantifies how these traffic choke points burden the public with severe delays, degraded safety, worsened air quality and wasted fuel consumption, and it details the major benefits that will accrue from uncorking the bottlenecks.

According to the study, Unclogging America’s Arteries: Effective Relief for Highway Bottlenecks (1999-2004), targeting funds to fix major bottlenecks "will reduce the amount of time commuters have to spend on the road, save thousands of lives, prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries and help us safeguard the environment." Cambridge Systematics, a transportation research firm, produced today’s updated study and the original report for the American Highway Users Alliance.

"The good news is there’s hope for curing congestion on our highways," said Diane Steed, president and CEO of the Highway Users. "While this update clearly shows that gridlock has grown over the past five years, motorists in cities that have moved aggressively to unclog bottlenecks are reaping the benefits of improved traffic flow. However, federal highway funding that’s critically needed to finance these improvement projects will expire in 10 days, and Congress must act to provide congestion relief nationwide."

In 1999, the original study identified 167 major highway bottlenecks in 30 states plus the District of Columbia where drivers experience at least 700,000 annual hours of delay. Using the same methodology and delay criteria, today’s report finds that severe traffic choke points have increased to a total of 233 bottlenecks in 33 states plus the district, a 40% increase.

The study provides powerful evidence that gridlock is not inevitable and that making transportation improvements yields major tangible benefits. Seven of the top 18 bottlenecks identified five years ago--including hot spots in Albuquerque, Denver and Houston--no longer appear on the list because major reconstruction projects are either completed or under way at those sites. In Albuquerque alone, drivers have regained more than 15 million hours annually since 2002 that would have otherwise been wasted sitting in traffic at the I-40/I-25 interchange, also known as the "Big I."

"While there is no single solution for reducing congestion, these success stories show that fixing traffic bottlenecks is a critical starting point," continued Steed. The report recommends a balanced, comprehensive approach to tackling congestion, citing improved transit, car-pooling, high-tech traffic management systems, reversible commuter lanes with movable barriers and additional road capacity as key to the fight.

The top 24 bottlenecks are located in 13 metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Tampa and Washington, D.C.

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