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Lawmakers Debate Ways to Ease Traffic on US Roads

WASHINGTON (CN) – In 2017, people driving to work in the Washington, D.C., metro area each paid an average of $1,840 in extra costs related to being stuck in traffic, wasted 38 gallons in fuel idling on freeways and spent an extra 102 hours on roadways, for a total of 248 million hours lost to congestion delays.

According to a report published by the Texas A&M Transport Institute, if nothing is done to alter these trends, roadway delays across the U.S. will climb by 10 billion hours by 2025. The national cost of congestion, which was $166 billion in 2017, will also balloon to $200 billion.

Alleviating these costs and giving Americans alternative means of transportation were the main topics discussed Tuesday at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing.

Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said the cost of congestion every year is more than four times the amount that the federal government invests in surface transport and transit. Part of the issue in investing in solutions is finding a way to pay for it, he said.

“We haven’t adjusted the gas and diesel tax since 1993,” DeFazio said. “Let’s just index the gas and diesel tax and do some bonding and limit the annual increase to 1 1/2 cents a gallon a year.”

Oliver Gilbert, mayor of Miami Gardens, Florida, and chairman of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization, testified Tuesday that implementing a rail system, tolled express lanes and a rapid transit program improved congestion in his city.

Implementing and installing all these alternative transit methods was imperative to reducing congestion in Miami Gardens, he said.

“I engage your imagination to view a road as not just pavement and asphalt. I ask that you see traffic independent of its congestion, to see rail without regard to its cost. While all the things mentioned are relevant, roads are pathways to something greater. They are instruments of economic development and job creation,” Gilbert testified.

Congestion pricing, or charging auto commuters a fee for traveling during peak hours, is another prospective solution to reliving traffic in an urban area.

Tilly Chang, executive director of the San Francisco Transit Authority, said the group studied the impact of congestion pricing with the help of a grant in 2008. By charging motorists $3 per crossing of a highly congested freeway, the program would generate nearly $80 million annually for other public transit incentive programs and funding a multi-modal package of transit improvements. Commuters could be offered a free toll pass or other incentives for using public transportation, she said.

“This program was estimated to reduce peak period vehicle trips by 12%, increase bus speeds by 20-25% … and ultimately to reduce daily emissions by about 16%,” Chang told lawmakers.

Maintenance of roadways is another problem and the costs of maintaining highways are often passed onto consumers in the form of repairs.

Darren Hawkins, CEO of YRC Worldwide Inc., testified Tuesday on behalf of the American Trucking Associations, saying on average a trucker pays $1,600 in repairs annually. Freight and truck transportation play a large role in delivering goods across the country, including in Washington D.C.

The Highway Trust Fund, the primary source of federal revenue for highway projects, is not expected to generate enough funds to maintain critical projects to the nation’s roadways, Hawkins testified. The fund is expected to generate $42 billion over the next decade through a variety of methods, but $60 billion is the expected price tag to prevent significant reductions in federal aid.

“As the investment gap continues to grow, so too will the number of deficient bridges, miles of roads in poor condition, number of highway bottlenecks and, most critically, the number of crashes and fatalities attributable to inadequate roadways,” Hawkins testified.

The committee also heard testimony from Texas A&M Transport Institute regents fellow Timothy Lomax, Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow Marc Scribner and Travis Brouwer, assistant director for public affairs at the Oregon Department of Transportation.