The Washington, D.C. region, including its Maryland suburbs, ranks as the nation’s most-congested region for auto commuters and the Baltimore region is the sixth most-congested urban area, according to a study released September 27 by the highly-regarded Texas Transportation Institute.
The average D.C.-area auto commuter experienced 74 hours per year of delay in 2010. Also, the annual 52 hours of delay experienced last year by the average Baltimore commuter is the worst among all metro areas with a population of 3 million or less, according to study statistics that rank 2010 commute delays in 101 U.S. regions.
“I doubt that anyone in Maryland is surprised by this data,” says GBC President & CEO, Donald C. Fry. Highways in Maryland have ranked among the nation’s most congested for more than five years. But policy makers in Annapolis should pay attention to the local implications of the report’s warning that “too little progress is being made toward ensuring that the nation’s transportation system will be able to keep up with job growth that could occur when the recession ends,” Fry adds.
“Congestion does more than choke our highways. It chokes our economy, making it harder to buy what we need and harder to keep or find a job. That’s a bad thing, especially when our economic recovery is so fragile,” says Tim Lomax, one of the authors of the TTI study. “Generally speaking, mobility investments in congested areas have a high rate of return.”
Maryland faces a crisis in funding transportation infrastructure. Stagnant revenue to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, due largely to state lawmakers’ failure to increase the state’s gas tax since the last rate increase in 1992, has resulted in billions of dollars in backlogged state highway and transit projects that have been planned but not funded for construction.
The connection between transportation infrastructure investment and economic growth was well-illustrated between the 1960s and the mid 1980s, when federal investment in the interstate highway system was a factor in fueling the longest uninterrupted U.S. economic expansion in history, note TTI researchers.
Since then, U.S. companies have kept their products competitive in the face of increasing traffic congestion and rising transportation costs through efforts to “squeeze every ounce of efficiency they can out of their supply chain,” says TTI researcher David Ellis. “But there is a limit to efficiency, and without additional transportation capacity, transportation costs will increase significantly. The result will be higher prices and lost jobs.”
On highways in the Baltimore region, more than 6 million hours in truck transportation delay in 2010 cost shippers $449 million dollars, which ranked worst among all U.S. regions with populations of 3 million or less, according to TTI data.
Meanwhile, Maryland’s best window of opportunity to strengthen funding for transportation infrastructure will be in the 2012 General Assembly session, according to speakers at the September 19 Greater Baltimore Committee’s 2011 Transportation Summit.