- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2001

Its getting harder to get around. This will not be news to anyone who has to drive anywhere near a major metropolitan area, but the Texas Transportation Institute which annually publishes traffic statistics recently quantified just how bad it is out there.

According to the report published last week by TTI, Americans now spend three times as much time sitting in traffic as they did in 1980. Looked at another way, that amounts to about 36 hours on average each year that we stew in our cars, staring vacantly (or angrily) at the car ahead of us, up from 11 hours in 1982.

But that´s just the average. It´s much worse in densely populated metro areas such as Los Angeles, New York and, of course, Washington, D.C. In La-La Land, drivers fume an average of 56 hours in gridlock each year. The Los Angeles area edged out the Washington area as the absolute worst place to be if you need to get around by car. Washington-area area drivers waste 46 hours annually. However, Atlanta is becoming a contender coming in at 53 hours per year up from just 25 only nine years ago in 1992. "Rush hour" is now plural, too, and typically lasts six hours each day (three in the morning and three in the evening). This is twice as bad as it was back in the now-dreamy days of the early 1980s.

All of this waiting costs us not just time but also money. The TTI report, which analyzes data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration and 11 state highway departments, estimates that in the worst areas, such as Los Angeles, Washington and Atlanta, the tab comes to about $1,000 down the drain every year in wasted gas and other losses related to delays.

There´s also the issue of pollution. We get more of it as cars idle in traffic, especially since emissions control devices are often not as effective when vehicles are not moving and the engine is not operating at peak efficiency.

And don´t forget the human costs. We´re more harried and stressed out than ever before. We have less time for family and friends; we´re tired more often and have cut back on social activities because it´s just becoming too much of a hassle.

The solution, or at least the beginning of one, lies in addressing the dismal state of the nation´s transportation infrastructure, which has not been appreciably improved or expanded in capacity in years. While we can´t "build our way out of gridlock," as the saying goes, we can make life a little easier on ourselves by seeing to it that adequate roads are, in fact, built. This is not the case at present notwithstanding the enormous revenues collected by state and federal authorities via motor fuels taxes. These taxes are supposed to give us well-maintained and adequate roads. So where are they?

The answer to that question will help us to answer the problems identified by the TTI report.

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