Baltimore's traffic jams may look bad, but they score low for U.S. snarls

February 05, 1991|By Doug Birch

Motorists who find themselves swamped in traffic on the Jones Falls Expressway every weekday morning should thank their lucky stars. It could be a lot worse.

A study by two researchers for the Texas Transportation Institute found that as of 1988, Baltimore had less traffic congestion than most other major U.S. cities, ranking 25th of 39 urban areas studied.

Of the six Northeastern cities in the study, only Pittsburgh's roads were less snarled than Baltimore's. By comparison, researchers found that Washington, just a tie-up or two down Interstate 95, had the third-worst traffic problem in the nation.

The January 1991 study, "Roadway Congestion in Major Urban Areas 1982 to 1988," grew out of a 3-year-old study of what institute researchers call "urban mobility" and of the economic impact of heavy traffic.

The institute, an arm of Texas A&M University in College Station, launched the study to measure the hidden costs of what it called VTC a 20-year decline in new highway construction throughout the United States.

Timothy J. Lomax, one of the authors, said the report showed that as of 1988, the last full year for which statistics were available, Baltimore did not suffer from "area-wide congestion." But the city, he added, was close to the threshold beyond which traffic levels are considered "undesirable."

The study, he said, broadly gauges area-wide traffic problems by comparing vehicle miles traveled on freeways and principal arterial streets to the capacity of those roads. This method, he added, tends to obscure any problems created by recurring local bottlenecks.

"For the people who are sitting in those traffic bottlenecks, things are real bad," said Mr. Lomax.

The institute found that traffic in Baltimore grew by about 10 percent between 1982 and 1988, about average for the urban areas studied.

Mr. Lomax said that in general, congestion was worst in cities experiencing the most rapid development. "Cities that are growing fast don't have a chance to cope with their congestion," he said. "They can't build roads fast enough."

The current economic downturn and slower population growth, he said, create an opportunity for many states to catch up on road and transit construction -- if they can find the money.

Jeffrey Valentine, a spokesman for the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the study's findings reflected the massive investment Maryland had already made in its roads -- an investment the GBC likes to boast of when trying to persuade companies to relocate or expand here.

"If time is money, not having your truck tied up or your employees tied up in traffic jams saves you money," he said.

But, he added, the Texas Institute's findings may obscure the need for continued spending. "It's only a matter of time before we get into some of the congestion binds that plague other areas," he said.

To prevent that, he said, the committee supports Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to impose a 5 percent sales tax on gasoline in hopes of raising an additional $1.5 billion for state transportation projects over the next five years.

But the GBC's support for the gasoline sales tax, he added, is contingent on the legislature's approval of the Linowes commission plan to raise $800 million in other taxes and to restructure the state's tax system.

Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, said the Texas study showed that while the state had focused in the past on Baltimore's highway and transit needs, transportation needs of the Washington suburbs "are the most critical in the entire state." But he said as the Baltimore and Washington areas begin to merge, "There are going to be less 'us vs. them' problems and more 'we' problems."

The study also measured the money wasted in traffic jams -- based on the cost of lost time, squandered fuel and other factors.

The five cities that waste the most every year were: Los Angeles, where the price tag was $6.88 billion; New York, $6.04 billion; San Francisco, $2.34 billion; Chicago, $1.88 billion; and Washington, $1.73 billion.

Baltimore ranked 16th in congestion costs, with an annual price tag of $520 million, the study found.

Congested U.S. cities

Rank... ... ... City... ... ... Road Congestion index*

1... ... ... ...Los Angeles... ... ... ... ... ...1.52

2... ... ... ...San Francisco-Oakland... ... ... .1.33

... ... ...Washington... ... ... ... ... ... 1.32

4-5... ... ... .Chicago/Miami... ... ... ... ... .1.18

6... ... ... ...Seattle-Everett... ... ... ... ...1.17

... ... ...Houston... ... ... ... ... ... ...1.15

8... ... ... ...San Diego... ... ... ... ... ... .1.13

9... ... ... ...Boston... ... ... ... ... ... ... 1.12

10-11... ..(tie)New York/Atlanta... ... ... ... ..1.10

25... ... ... ..Baltimore... ... ... ... ... ... .0.92

SIX NORTHEAST CITIES

1... ... ... ...Washington... ... ... ... ... ... 1.32

2... ... ... ...Boston... ... ... ... ... ... ... 1.12

3... ... ... ...New York... ... ... ... ... ... ..1.10

4... ... ... ...Philadlephia... ... ... ... ... ..1.07

5... ... ... ...Baltimore... ... ... ... ... ... .0.92

6... ... ... ...Pittsburgh... ... ... ... ... ... 0.81

*The RCI is calculated by comparing the daily vehicle miles traveled on roadways with the miles of roadway available to accommodate the traffic.

Source: "Roadway Congestion in Major Urban Areas 1982 to 1988," Texas Transportation Institute.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.