Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Traffic Congestion

“Most of America bleeds away hours of precious life idling in a car,” notes Chris Mayer in the latest Capital & Crisis. “It's a mean reality and a hidden tax.” Traffic jams cost the U.S. economy some $78 billion annually. They eat away 4.2 billion hours in travel delays and waste 2.9 billion gallons of fuel -- every year, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.
“The future doesn't look much better… unless you're an investor. In which case, there are ways to cash in on the massive rebuilding of America's roads.
“But first, you have to know how mangled and screwed up the road systems are. The chart below shows you how few miles of road we've added since 1982, percentage-wise. Population is up a much greater percentage. So, too, the number of drivers and vehicles and the miles they travel. The end result is predictable and unavoidable: Mounting hours of delay. The average American spends 40 hours per year in gridlock.
“Currently, the amount of money we invest in our roads is not enough to offset the beating they take. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that over 160,000 miles of federal highway has pavement deemed ‘unacceptable.’ Over 153,000 bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, says the DOT. Of this last point, we could hardly have a more dramatic reminder than the bridge collapse in Minnesota.
“Incredibly, the need for miles of highway will double again over the next 30 years. If the demographers are right, the U.S. should add another 100 million people over that time frame. If we add capacity at a rate no faster than what we've done in the past, the average American could spend up 160 hours each year in traffic. That's about four workweeks!
“It's quite a predicament. I tend to think that the industry will get the money, only because the bridge collapse gives politicians a chance to make that an issue. And there will certainly be more bridge collapses and tragedies if we don't do something soon. Also, as the economy weakens, a big public road-building project is a way politicians can claim they created jobs. But you never know. Sometimes things have to get really bad before they get better.”

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