APHA Tallies ‘Hidden Health Costs’ of Transportation Status Quo

The nation’s transportation planning process fails to account for more
than $200 billion per year in "hidden health costs" imposed by traffic and air
pollution, according to a new report from the American Public Health
Association (APHA) that maps the nexus between infrastructure and
health care.

08congestion_600.jpgTraffic brings with it billions of dollars in "hidden health costs," according to the APTA. (Photo: NYT)

The APHA’s report (available for download here) echoes many of the policy recommendations issued by the
Centers for Disease Control last month: stronger incentives to expand
bicycle and pedestrian networks, as well as more frequent measurement
of the health impacts of new transport projects.

But the APHA, a trade association representing public health
workers, went further than the government by adding up the estimated
costs imposed by the absence of any mandatory evaluation of the health
consequences of transportation decisions.

Citing U.S. DOT
and American Automobile Association studies, respectively, the APHA
pegged the annual price of congested roads at between $50 billion and
$80 billion, with the health toll of traffic crashes — including the
treatment of fatalities, the resulting court costs, and lost wages —
reaching $180 billion per year.

The majority of those bills
are paid indirectly by the transportation system users they affect, not
factored in advance into local planning, as the APHA writes:

The
federal government does not require a consistent methodology for
environmental impact analysis, transportation modeling, or cost-benefit
analysis for agencies seeking federal highway funding — and while this
approach allows agencies to tailor analyses to fit their needs, itmakes
it impossible to compare potential project effectiveness at a national
level. It also  means that health impacts, costs and benefits are often
left off the table when projects are being considered.

What
can be done to build those health risks into the calculus that
determines where roads get built, bridges fixed, and crosswalks
painted? The APHA offers San Francisco, where health officials used
economic modeling to weigh the likely pedestrian injury rates caused by
five alternative development plans, as an example of effective local
analysis of transportation’s effect on public health.

But the
APHA report underscores the difficulty of achieving a broader shift
without Congress requiring a stronger emphasis on transport policies
that tangibly improve Americans’ health. In addition to endorsing the
concept of national transportation objectives — which has won some Democratic support but sparked resistance
from state DOTs — the group’s new report urges that those new federal
standards "allocate more funds to projects and efforts that support
healthy communities and active transportation."

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