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Congress urged to ‘unclog’ congested routes

Initiative needed that would save lives, cut air pollution, reduce travel delays

From the American Highway Users Alliance
WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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 chokepoints 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 well-respected transportation research firm, produced both 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 ten days, and Congress must act to provide congestion relief nationwide.”

In 1999, the original Unclogging 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 chokepoints have increased to a total of 233 bottlenecks in 33 states plus the District, a 40 percent increase.

Despite growing congestion, 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 ranking because major reconstruction projects are either completed or underway 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, carpooling, high-tech traffic management systems, reversible commuter lanes with movable barriers and additional road capacity as key to the fight.

In addition to profiling successful improvements since the 1999 ranking, today’s report finds that modest improvements aimed at bringing traffic flow to minimum acceptable levels at all 233 bottlenecks would, over the 20-year life of the improved projects:

  • Prevent more than 449,500 crashes, including 1,750 fatalities and 220,500 injuries
  • Cut pollution at the bottlenecks in half, reducing smog-causing volatile organic compounds by nearly 50 percent and carbon monoxide by 54 percent
  • Slash emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, by an impressive 77 percent at those sites
  • Conserve more than 40 billion gallons of fuel
  • Reduce rush hour delays by an average of 16 minutes per trip – saving more than 30 minutes per day for commuters who must negotiate a bottleneck in both morning and evening rush hours

The study also provides detailed case studies on the nation’s worst 24 bottlenecks where drivers experience at least 10 million hours of delay annually at each site. These top 24 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.

Using analytic modeling methods developed by Cambridge Systematics, the report estimates significant gains in safety, air quality, fuel conservation and travel time at each site over the 20-year life of the improvements, despite factoring in additional delays during reconstruction and annual traffic growth projected by the appropriate state transportation department.

For each of the worst 24 bottlenecks where specific congestion fixes are planned, Cambridge Systematics modeled the benefits based on actual improvements designed by the state transportation department. At sites where repairs are under consideration but not officially on the books, the report conservatively analyzed hypothetical improvements that would raise traffic flow to a minimum acceptable level.

“A fundamental step towards fixing America’s worst bottlenecks is passage of a new six-year transportation reauthorization bill,” concluded Steed. “For the sake of public safety, an improved environment and a better quality of life, Congress should act quickly and dedicate significant funding to fixing these chokepoints.”

The American Highway Users Alliance represents motorists, truckers, bus companies and a broad cross-section of businesses that depend on safe and efficient highways to transport their families, customers, employees, and products. Highway Users members pay the taxes that finance the federal highway program and advocate public policies that dedicate those taxes to improved highway safety and mobility.

Note: Starting at noon on Feb. 19, 2004, Unclogging America’s Arteries: Effective Relief for Highway Bottlenecks will be available in its entirety, along with detailed information on each of the nation’s top 24 traffic chokepoints, on the web at