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Maribel betsy_sanchez at email.msn.com
Wed May 25 17:16:28 EST 2005


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Sitting in traffic, an annoying part of life in many big cities, is becoming a major headache in places not usually lumped in with New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

Take Omaha, Neb. Each year, motorists in one of the country's most wide-open states spend the equivalent of nearly a full day in highway gridlock, according to the annual Urban Mobility Report released Monday by the Texas Transportation Institute.

Omaha is among a growing list of metropolitan areas where drivers are delayed at least 20 hours a year. There are 51 such places now, compared to just five in 1982. Among some of the newer entries: Colorado Springs, Colo.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; New Haven, Conn.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Salt Lake City; and Cincinnati.

``That's where the growth is,'' said Tim Lomax, one of the report's co-authors. ``The medium cities are about 10-15 years behind the big cities.''

And 10-15 years is about how long it takes to complete transportation projects that reduce congestion, Lomax said.

The numbers, from 2003 data, reflect a long-established trend of people moving to the suburbs for more affordable housing and space. The report concluded that urban areas aren't adding enough roads, improving traffic operations or managing demand well enough to keep pace with the societal changes.

The result is clogged highways, and the king of that road nightmare is Los Angeles, where motorists are delayed an average of 93 hours a year. San Francisco was next with 72 hours, followed by Washington (69 hours), Atlanta (67 hours) and Houston (63 hours).

In the 85 urban areas studied, rush-hour drivers spent three times as much time stuck in traffic in 2003 - 47 hours - than they did in 1982, the study found.

Washington-area commuter Reynold Walbrook spent more than an hour Monday traveling eight miles through the Maryland suburbs. Walbrook, a pharmaceutical salesman from Glenn Dale, Md., said the reason was an accident, an all-too-frequent rush-hour occurrence on the roads around the nation's capital.

``Everyone was on the cellphone, and whoever was on the other end was getting the rage,'' Walbrook said.

Alan Pisarski, author of a book titled ``Commuting in America'' and a transportation consultant, said many major traffic problems these days are out in the suburbs and along the edges of metropolitan regions.

``Patterns change,'' Pisarski said. ``More of the jobs move out to the suburbs to be near the skilled workers.''

Overall in 2003, there were 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 2.3 billion gallons of wasted fuel for a total cost of more than $63 billion. Congestion delayed travelers 79 million more hours and wasted 69 million more gallons of fuel in 2003 than in 2002.

The report was released Monday, the same day the Senate resumed debate on a bill that would spend $284 billion on highways over the next six years.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimated it would take as much as $400 billion in federal spending over the next six years to solve traffic problems, based on a 2002 study.

Lomax offered a gloomy forecast for relieving congestion: lots more money or a weak economy that takes people off the roads.

``The things that dramatically change congestion are loss of jobs or major commitments to expand capacity,'' Lomax said.

But congestion can also be reduced by managing traffic better. The report said such techniques as coordinating traffic signals, smoothing traffic flow on major roads and creating teams to respond quickly to accidents reduced delay by 336 million hours in 2003.

Robert Dunphy, senior resident fellow for transportation at the Urban Land Institute, said that half of all traffic delays are caused by car crashes.

``There are huge benefits to getting in there and clearing accidents quickly,'' Dunphy said.

Commuters also adapt, said Pisarski. ``People give up and go somewhere else,'' he said.

Chrystn Alston Eads used to spend an hour driving to work on Capitol Hill from her home in Annandale, Va., a suburb 15 miles west of Washington. The commute, she said, was hard on her two small children.

``I was just kind of talking to them from the front seat,'' she said.

Two years ago she and her husband moved to Capitol Hill, near where she works in the Senate. Eads said she now walks the kids to school and reads to them at night.

``We love it,'' she said.

The report was partially funded by two groups that advocate more government spending on transportation projects - the American Public Transportation Association and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. State transportation departments and the Texas Transportation Institute, which is part of the Texas A&M University System, also paid for the study. 
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