Mineta announces congestion-relief initiative

News AASHTO Journal May 26, 2006
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Speaking before the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C., last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said congestion is one of the largest threats to the U.S. economy and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to roll out a new national initiative to combat highway, freight and aviation congestion.

The new initiative is being called the National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network. Initial steps include providing a blueprint for federal, state and local officials to tackle congestion, Mineta said. He noted that over the coming months, the U.S. DOT will focus its resources, funding, staff and technology to cut traffic jams, relieve freight bottlenecks and reduce flight delays.

"Congestion kills time, wastes fuel and costs money," Mineta said in his remarks. He noted that America loses an estimated $200 billion a year due to freight bottlenecks and delayed deliveries. Consumers, he said, lose 7 billion hours and burn 2.3 billion gallons of fuel sitting in traffic jams, while airline delays waste $9.4 billion a year.

"Congestion is not a fact of life," Mineta said. "We need a new approach and we need it now."

According to the Time Union of Albany, N.Y., the transportation department is seeking $100 million from Congress to help build transportation corridors that might involve toll lanes for semi-trailer trucks, tracks for commuter rail lines and space for power lines.

Mineta called these combinations of infrastructure "corridors of the future."

The U.S. DOT says the initiative will broker "Urban Partnership Agreements" with a handful of communities willing to demonstrate new congestion-relief strategies. It will also encourage states to pass legislation giving the private sector a broader opportunity to invest in transportation. It calls for more widespread deployment of new operational technologies and practices that end traffic tie-ups, designates new interstate "corridors of the future," and targets port and border congestion and expanded aviation capacity.

AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley said the state transportation departments are eager to work with the U.S. DOT and its agencies in reducing congestion on the nation's highways, freight and rail corridors. He noted states have long been active in combating congestion through innovations such as traffic-management centers, enhancing project delivery and moving roadwork to non-peak travel hours. AASHTO projects that highway freight traffic will double over the next 20 years and highway travel is increasing more than 2% annually.

"The federal-state transportation partnership has delivered projects as huge as the Interstate Highway System and less costly, but vital projects as the 511 Travel Information program," Horsley said. "State DOTs share our federal partner's goal of reducing congestion."

The Secretary also announced that he would convene the Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission for its first meeting on Wednesday, May 24. He said he would task the commission with finding solutions that not only raise revenue for highway and transit projects, but also reduce the cost of congestion by focusing more on system performance.

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