U.S. transportation secretary outlines plans to fight traffic congestion

News U.S. DOT September 14, 2004
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The Bush administration is promoting innovative traffic-fighting solutions that will bring short-term relief to commuters and has proposed record levels of long-term investment in road and transit systems that would go even further in reducing congestion, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta said last week.

Secretary Mineta’s comments came as the Texas Transportation Institute prepared to release its annual report on road congestion.

"The report takes a page out of the president’s playbook on traffic relief," said Mineta. "We need solutions that help drivers now, which is why the administration is working to provide states with solutions to get commuters to jobs, shoppers to stores and families to their homes on time."

Short-term traffic solutions that the Transportation Department is providing to states include letting drivers pay tolls to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, allowing states to price highways differently during the most congested periods of the day and using ramp metering technology to better move traffic on and off of highways. Additional measures include improving traffic signal timing to match traffic patterns and avoid gridlock and investing in new telephone and Internet-based information systems to help drivers avoid traffic and construction.

The Transportation Department’s traffic solutions are helping ease congestion in numerous areas of the country. For example, at least 22,000 Seattle drivers each day check an Internet traffic map that provides real-time information on road conditions, helping motorists steer clear of trouble spots and better plan their trips.

In Orlando, Fla., more than 130 dynamic message signs along major routes are routinely updated to provide drivers with current information on traffic and alternative routes. Orlando drivers also gather the latest reports about traffic jams, road construction and alternative routes through a service known as "5-1-1" after the number commuters can dial for the information.

Secretary Mineta said the Bush administration also has proposed record levels of funding for new highway and transit systems, saying the money will go a long way to fight traffic over the long-term. The administration’s proposed funding levels would mean a 20% increase over current spending, without raising taxes, adding to the deficit or taking money from other programs.

"Today’s report validates what we’ve known all along, the solution to road congestion isn’t just pouring new concrete and paving new roads," said Federal Highway Administrator Mary E. Peters, the nation’s top highway official. "We want to give states a menu of immediate solutions while we invest record levels in the nation’s highway and transit systems to fight traffic and build economic capacity for tomorrow."

The departmental traffic relief plan also includes reforms to attract private-sector capital and innovation and move projects from the drawing board to completion more quickly. The Bush administration has proposed letting states use private activity bonds and electronic tolling to find new ways to invest in transportation systems.

And, in 2002, the president signed an executive order to get agencies to work together to shave years off the environmental review and decision-making process, Mineta added.

Peters said the Federal Highway Administration recently released a comprehensive study that for the first time linked the causes of congestion to proven solutions and focused on the need to make travel times reliable for motorists. The report cites congestion-cutting solutions proposed by the department that local officials around the country are using to help reduce travel time by drivers. The report is available at http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/congestion_report/index.htm.

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