Widening congested highways: Bigger isn’t better

Solving the ongoing traffic nightmare that has frustrated Southern California commuters for decades is a problem that intrigues drivers across the country. but a recent investigation by the New York Times This study of congestion found that widening highways may not be the answer to improving traffic flow.

While the story focuses on a famously congested Los Angeles freeway — Interstate 710 between downtown LA and Long Beach — it also tackles traffic problems in New Jersey and Houston.

The conclusion is that while adding lanes can alleviate congestion initially, this so-called cure “may also encourage people to drive more.” A few years after a highway was widened, research showsTraffic – and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with it – come back often.â€‌

Houston’s Katy Freeway is a world-famous example of this – within five years of a massive expansion of traffic to as many as 26 lanes, congestion became worse than before.

It is true that enormous federal funds are earmarked for the expansion of freeways in the next few years through federal funds supported by President Biden infrastructure package, the Times noted that some opponents believe the money is better spent elsewhere. in one report Last year from the Department of Transport, the agency said it would seek to prioritize funding for the safety of pedestrians, motorcyclists and others outside of cars, rather than paying for road widening — and on the basis of the latest NHTSA data shows increased pedestrian and motorcyclist deathsthat sounds like a good plan.

After spending $60 million in design and planning over two decades, the Route 710 expansion was halted last May. The newspaper quoted Los Angeles County Transportation Department chief planning officer James de la Loza as saying, “We don’t see widening as a strategy for LA.”

The Times story, titled Widening Highways Doesn’t Fix Traffic, also addresses emissions issues, air quality issues and alternatives to public transportation. In a segment of the Times story appraising a $10.7 billion project designed to expand part of the New Jersey Turnpike, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner, says she supports the plan.

“Traffic jams are not safe,†says Ms. Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “I am not advocating widening roads just for the sake of widening.”

But in the past, when commuters saw traffic improving somewhere, they would change their existing routes. Then the fuses shift with the increased flow.

Of course, there’s still another option for those who work remotely or have access to public transport: drive less.

As Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop noted at the end of the Times article – Jersey City has some of the worst air quality in the country – “there are other forms of mobility that people appreciate, other than just cars.” ‌

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