- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

The average number of hours Washington area residents sit in rush-hour traffic has more than tripled in the past two decades, according to a report released yesterday by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M; University.

The average time a driver in the Washington area sat in traffic jumped from 21 hours in 1982 to 69 hours in 2003 — which amounts to almost three full days, the report concluded. Nationally, the average rush-hour driver spent 47 hours in traffic in 2003.

The area also ranked third of the worst cities in the U.S. for rush-hour delays, the report showed. Los Angeles and San Francisco ranked first and second of the worst cities for traffic delays, respectively.

“This is shameful,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “We are the nation’s capital, the capital of the richest country on earth. The eyes of the world are on us, and [officials] can’t do anything about transportation.”

The report was released yesterday morning, as many area commuters endured traffic delays on local highways. In Maryland, an overturned truck on westbound Interstate 70 caused major delays. In the District, road work crews on I-395 just past the Maine Avenue exit slowed down traffic trying to get around the city.

Nationally, the wasted time and gasoline amounted to approximately $63 billion in 2003, an increase from about $62 billion in 2002, according to the study which looked at 85 cities.

The TTI study showed that Washington-area commuters are still better off than those in Los Angeles, where drivers spent 93 hours in traffic in 2003.

The San Francisco area was next at 72 hours. The Washington area was followed by Atlanta with 67 hours, Houston with 63 hours and Dallas-Fort Worth with 60, the report showed.

Mr. Anderson said the congestion problem is caused by officials’ failure to address the traffic issue over the past two decades.

“This report is a great yard stick we get annually on how the major cities are doing with traffic congestion,” he said. “Basically this is a major test that Washington flunks every year.”

The development of office complexes, shopping centers and subdivisions that have become commuting destinations also have added to the region’s congestion problem, the report indicates.

“The problem is that we provide the new homes with sewer service, water service, fire protection, police protection and schools but we don’t provide any more road capacity or mass transportation, so [congestion] is inevitable,” Mr. Anderson said.

Problems with the aging Metrorail system have sparked debate about using a sales tax as a dedicated funding source.

Local jurisdictions also are modernizing traffic signals, adding incident management vehicles to major commuter routes, and assigning traffic management officers to major intersections.

“Things would be a lot worse if we’d done nothing,” said Dan Tangherlini, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation. “At some point we’re going to run out of the ability to squeeze any new capacity out of the existing system.”

Maryland has taken steps to proceed with the Intercounty Connector (ICC), which would link I-95 and I-270 within central and eastern Montgomery County and northwestern Prince George’s County. The state also is working with Virginia to replace the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which carries the I-95/I-495 Capital Beltway over the Potomac River.

Virginia is spending $700 million to modernize the Springfield Interchange in Fairfax County where I-395, I-495 and I-95 merge.

Critics contend those projects will simply replace outdated sections of road built more than 40 years ago, or, in the case of the ICC, proposed and never built.

“We seem to be continually unwilling to invest money in the highway needs of the region,” said John Milliken, a member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade’s transportation and environment committee.

Leaders of the business group think the federal government should play a major role in solving the region’s mobility problems.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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