Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Operational Solutions to Traffic Congestion

Making the best of the highways already on course is a very good concept for relieving gridlock.
Traffic congestion occurs during longer portions of the day and delays more travelers and goods than ever before," says The 2004 Urban Mobility Report published by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in September 2004. The TTI report notes that the average annual delay per peak traveler has gone from 16 hours in 1982 to 46 hours in 2002, or almost tripled in the last 20 years. This equates to more than an average by Jeff Paniati 40-hour work week per year spent in congestion during peak travel times.
FHWA is seriously attacking congestion, such as this four-lane gridlock, using comprehensive strategies focusing on near-term results.
FHWA is seriously attacking congestion, such as this four-lane gridlock, using comprehensive strategies focusing on near-term results.

In addition, the TTI report indicates other consequences from delay:

"Congestion costs are increasing. The total congestion 'invoice' for the 85 areas [studied] in 2002 was $63 billion, an increase from $61 billion in 2001. The 3.5 billion hours of delay and 5.7 billion gallons of fuel consumed due to congestion are only the elements that are easiest to estimate. The effect of uncertain or longer delivery times, missed meetings, business re-locations, and some other congestion results are not counted."

Although the causes of congestion are numerous and has variations, the U.S. Department of Transportation Highway Statistics indicates that, over the last 20 years or so, nearly twice as many miles are driven today—on a road system that has increased in size by only 5 percent. Such heavy demand, alongside with temporary reductions in capacity resulting from causes such as crashes and work zones, are making traveling increasingly costly and frustrating. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) pointed congestion as one of three priority areas, along with safety and environmental stewardship and streamlining, known as the agency's "vital few" priority areas.

Traffic congestion need not be the normal state of affairs. In addition to traditional efforts, an increased focus of FHWA is the development and promotion of transportation systems management and operations. Better management and operations will not replace the need to build new roads or add transit capacity where appropriate, but they make the most of the infrastructure already in place. Similar to keeping an existing car in peak operating condition rather than buying a new one, operational strategies can be less expensive and quicker to establish than infrastructure-building projects, and can be very effective in minimizing congestion and stretching infrastructural performance.

Transportation systems management and operations strategies have two overarching requirements. First and foremost is the need for institutional transformation via the reorientation of operations agencies from construction to management of the transportation system, plus collaboration and cooperation by traditional and non-traditional players (such as public safety agencies) in the workings of the transportation system. The second change is the development and deployment of 21st-century technologies, otherwise known as intelligent transportation systems (ITS), to enhance the capability of agencies to rightly regulate the transportation system and the ability of travelers and commercial carriers to make informed choices about when and how to travel. FHWA is committed to improve these changes in a variety of areas—incident management, work zones, weather management systems, freight transportation, and traditional traffic operations—each of which is discussed in this issue of PUBLIC ROADS.

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