Congestion Costs Chicago $7.3 Billion Per Year

8_13_08_chicago.jpgYou know a city is getting serious about congestion mitigation when a new report comes out measuring how much gridlock costs the region.

In New York, it was the 2006 release of Growth or Gridlock, which pegged the annual price of traffic at $13 billion, that set off a public debate about congestion pricing that continues to this day. In London, the business group London First issued a similar report spurring Mayor Ken Livingstone to adopt a congestion charge. Now Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council has released "Moving at the Speed of Congestion" [PDF], which estimates that excess traffic costs the region $7.3 billion per year.

Chicago is already in the process of implementing performance parking and launching its first BRT routes (using federal funds that New York would have received
if Albany had approved congestion pricing). The new report indicates
that local policy makers will be urged to go further, perhaps in the
direction of congestion pricing, though not necessarily a London-style
cordon.

"The report shows that if we do look at pricing it has to be with a
regional focus, not just in the city," says Mandy Burrell of the
MPC. "There needs to be a menu of solutions that work collectively
across the region."

"Moving
at the Speed of Congestion" eschews specific proposals, but the authors
do note that an effective solution to the region’s congestion problems
won’t be limited to tolling highways:

Congestion mitigation strategies that focus
solely on increasing expressway speeds, perhaps by increasing expressway prices, could inadvertently divert traffic to
arterials. Instead, a coordinated strategy to increase travelers’ transportation options, while reducing traffic levels and
increasing speeds on both expressways and arterials, will be
necessary.

What sort of traffic mitigation ideas might surface following the release of the report? For now, the MPC is focused on improving Illinois’s capital plan, an omnibus spending package that has not been renewed since 2004. The state legislature is currently debating a new plan, including funding for Chicago’s bevy of local and regional transportation agencies.

Historically, the capital plan has diverted big chunks of money to a mishmash of member items and pork. The result? Two thousand miles of new lanes have been added to the region’s highways and arterial roads over the last 20 years, while average rush-hour commute times have doubled.

The MPC wants future spending to be based on set criteria, like curbing the amount of money people have to spend at the pump, and the length of time they spend sitting in traffic. "We should be prioritizing transportation
projects that reduce commutes and connect job centers," says Burrell. "Too often the projects that end up in the plan
aren’t the ones that reduce congestion, because the plan doesn’t have
stated goals."

The report suggests that one such goal should be to provide Chicagoans with more transportation options:

While some would say congestion is the result of people
choosing to drive, it is equally accurate to view congestion
as the result of a lack of choice. A prime example is a mass
transit network that more efficiently moves people to and
from home, work, stores, schools, and other transportation
hubs to give people more choice in how to get around.

Photo: Metropolitan Planning Council

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