Next time you’re stuck in traffic on the way home from work, think about what sitting in traffic is costing you and other drivers.
Our state’s population is booming but the availability of roads is simply not keeping pace with growing demand. Gas prices have grown substantially in the last few years, and owning a vehicle has become increasingly expensive. Californians are simply paying more while getting less and less.
Conventional approaches to addressing California’s transportation problems are expensive. For instance, the state has implemented a $2.3 billion project to construct 925 lane-miles of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) road with the intent of alleviating traffic and promoting carpooling. Studies have shown that although HOV construction lowers travel time for those traveling in HOV lanes, it does not significantly alleviate congestion and may not even encourage carpooling.
Similarly, the state often responds to an increase in demand for roads by building more roads. This simply translates into more long-term costs for everyone.
We should instead demand more efficientroad systems. These changes require creative thinking from our leaders, not expensive haphazard approaches that weaken our state’s finances with no favorable long-term outcome. In a recent public talk regarding the future of transportation, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said, “The answer to more cars is simply not more roads … We need an integrated system that uses real-time data to optimize personal mobility on a massive scale, without hassles or compromises for travelers.”
There certainly is no shortage of research on cost-effective solutions to improve our transportation infrastructure. Our state legislators simply haven’t pursued them actively enough. Automated toll systems, incentivized flex schedules to adjust the number of commuters on the road, and dynamic speed limits to stabilize traffic flow are just a few of the ways the state could lower congestion without building even one extra inch of road.
In an era of smart data, GPS, and communications, leveraging modern technology to cost-efficiently reduce traffic congestion is an obvious necessity. The state of Washington has implemented dynamic speed limit signs that use sensor-derived data to alleviate traffic flows. Smartphone apps like Google Maps and Waze give users real-time traffic data (from GPS) to calculate the fastest, least congested route. Why hasn’t California pursued something that uses similar real-time data to help route traffic?
These cost-effective solutions could save the state millions (if not billions) in wasted time, energy, and construction costs.
Some may look to mass transit to take some of the burden away from drivers. Unfortunately, many of our mass transit systems are bogged down from their own sets of problems. Buses and rail systems are raising fares as they face financial pressures and labor disputes. With their own internal problems, mass transit systems will have a harder time alleviating drivers’ stress.
Further, mass transit is frequently not the most cost-effective approach. Imagine if we spent just a fraction of the California High Speed Rail’s $67 billion modernizing our roads.
Adding more expensive construction projects is not the answer to our transportation inadequacy. We must utilize existing funding more efficiently instead of unwisely throwing cash at large projects that run the risk of failure.
Madhusudan Ravi is a Research Analyst at California Common Sense, a data-driven policy think tank committed to opening government to the public and educating citizens about how their governments work.