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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Office of the Secretary, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC 20590

Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Contact: Bill Outlaw
Telephone: 202-366-0660
FHWA 20-02

FHWA Administrator Testifies That Growing Traffic Congestion Threatens Nation's Economy, Quality of Life

In testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Federal Highway Administrator Mary E. Peters today said that increased traffic congestion is a growing threat to the nation's economy and to the quality of life of all Americans.

In testimony before the subcommittee, which conducted the hearing Tuesday on "Relieving Highway Congestion through Capacity Enhancements and Increased Efficiency," Peters said the U.S. Department of Transportation's goal is to provide the American people with a transportation system that is safe, secure and efficient.

Congestion must be addressed with a long-term strategy to increase capacity, make the system more efficient and preserve the nation's system of roads and bridges, Peters said.

"As (U.S. Transportation) Secretary (Norman Y.) Mineta has said, mobility is one of our greatest freedoms," Peters said. "Unless we manage highway congestion, our nation will continue to incur economic costs in forgone productivity, wasted fuel, and a reduced quality of life. Strategic expansion of our transportation system capacity is necessary in certain instances to address our existing and growing mobility needs."

"When we take appropriate action to address our mobility needs, we can also improve the safety and security of our system and enhance our natural and human environment," Peters said.

"Conversely, we find that we experience decreased safety and a degraded environment when we do not address critical needs on our highway system," Peters continued. "Congestion and bottlenecks damage air quality, slow commerce, increase energy consumption and threaten our quality of life. They waste significant time and money, and they reduce productivity."

She said one of the major reasons for increased traffic congestion is that the system has not kept pace with the growing demands placed on it.

For example, from 1980 to 2000, highway travel increased 80 percent and the number of drivers increased by 30 percent while highway mileage increased only 2 percent. At the same time, 84 percent of the nation's $7 trillion in freight traffic travels on highways, with truck travel expected to grow by more than 3 percent annually over the next 20 years.

In addition, the number of drivers is increasing slightly faster than overall population, and each driver on average is traveling more miles each year. At present, 91 percent of all person-miles traveled in the United States occur in private vehicles on highways. Although passenger travel growth is expected to slow, it nonetheless will grow more than 40 percent over the next two decades.

"Increased capacity, improved efficiency, and proper system preservation have positive effects on the environment, safety, and security of our nation's highways," she said.

Peters stressed that the physical condition of America's transportation infrastructure is improving, in part because of increased federal funding from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).

However, a recent Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study estimates the cost of congestion in just 68 urban areas has grown from $21 billion in 1982 to $78 billion in 1999 (36 hours per driver a year and 6.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel). The TTI study also estimated that congestion results in 4.4 billion person hours of delay annually in the 68 urban areas it studied.

Peters also testified that highway improvements, where appropriate, can help save lives and reduce traffic crashes.

"Highway improvements are sometimes the best way to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries on our roads," Peters said. "Removing obstacles, installing barriers and rumble strips, adding passing lanes and widening shoulders will both improve safety and relieve congestion," Peters said.

To enhance the operation of highways, Peters called for increased coordination among agencies responsible for roadway operations, including traffic, public safety, parking, media, and emergency response agencies.

While adding capacity, the FHWA and state and local agencies will continue to work with other modes of transportation, environmental groups and other partners and stakeholders and remain good stewards of the environment.


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