Virginia Congestion Costs: Getting Worse

Here are the latest congestion cost numbers from the 2007 Annual Urban Mobility Report for Virginia regions (based on 2005 numbers):

Washington, DC-VA-MD
Total annual congestion cost (in time and gasoline): $2,331 million
Annual cost per traveler: $1,094
Increase in congestion costs per traveler since 2000: 33 percent
Needed lane miles built yearly to maintain constant level of congestion: 218

Hampton Roads
Total annual congestion cost: $467 million
Annual cost per traveler: $550
Increase in congestion costs per traveler since 2000: 22 percent
Needed lane miles built yearly to maintain constant level of congestion: 70

Total annual congestion cost: $181 million
Annual cost per traveler: $362
Increase in congestion costs per traveler since 2000: 42 percent
Needed lane miles built yearly to maintain constant level of congestion: 130

As a Richmonder, I find the numbers alarming. While our congestion costs are low compared to NoVa and Hampton Roads, they are increasing much more rapidly. Congestion is directly correlated to the size of the metropolitan area. Richmond has less congestion than NoVa and Hampton Roads because it is smaller. But we’re catching up fast despite the addition of significant highway capacity in the past decade?

Why? My hypothesis: Because new highway construction, combined with local zoning policies, has accelerated the scatteration of development over broader areas. If I’m right, that scattered development has led to fast-rising increase in Vehicle Miles Driven. One of these days, I’ll track down that data to prove or disprove my hypothesis.

Also, consider this, Richmonders: While the Washington region has five times the Richmond regoin’s population, it requires only 68 percent more lane-miles of roadway construction to maintain current levels of congestion. Our region has an impending crisis — one that we can’t possibly build our way out of — and we’re utterly oblivious to it.

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22 responses to “Virginia Congestion Costs: Getting Worse”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    We reap what we sow. Last evening, the Chairman of the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force was asked a question from the audience at a public meeting to discuss implementation issues. The essence of the question was the neighborhoods surrounding Tysons Corner are concerned about the additional automobile traffic that will be generated by adding density to Tysons Corner.

    The answer suggested that, since part of the traffic in and around Tysons Corner is regional (through traffic), the Task Force cannot really address it. Thus, we will have a result where Fairfax County will add density without addressing all of the traffic issue. Guess who loses?

    Would this type of absolute insanity occur in any other county than Fairfax County, home of government by campaign contribution?

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s another way to look at it.

    For the DC area – about $1000 for … let’s say about 260 work days.

    That works out to about 3.85 cents per day.

    now think about that number …. in some different contexts.

    say for instance. that would be the amount of additional gas tax required to “close the gap”…

    … or perhaps… that might be the average toll required to “buy back” less congested roads…

    .. maybe I got my numbers wrong but 3.85 does not sound like a urgent crisis…

    but then 218 new needed lane miles at ummmm 50-100 million per lane mile .. that DOES sound like quite a bit of money.. at least 10 billion or so.

    Of course … if Fairfax figured out a way to “capture” revenue from all of that “through” traffic..and, in fact, if NoVa could “capture” revenues from through traffic… a good sized dent might be made…

    this is not an intractable problem in my view. Most folks… when polled WANT to pay more for roads but they don’t want it “laundered” by the legislature and/or politicians so that it just becomes another slush fund for who knows what – but not the road traveled.

    That’s why folks favor tolls over taxes – 2 to 1.

    and tolls are also the way for Fairfax and NoVa to “capture” money from non-residents – using local/regional roads.

    I recently traveled through Illinois and Indiana on TOLL roads using my EzPass transponder.

    Where EZ Pass was accepted – we breezed through the open road toll gantries – at the speed limit never slowing down and never having to go through a toll booth.

    when I got home, I had about $20 worth of tolls…

    Was it “worth” it?

    It’s no contest folks.

    It’s the way to go.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, Not to distract from your larger point, but wouldn’t $1,000 per year, divided by 260 days equal $3.85 per day?

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    JB – yes …. danged (new laptop)… $3.85 per day…

    while I am at it… that would mean $3.85 a day in ADDITIONAL gas tax OR tolls.

    Looking at it … THAT way… say where you buy gas ..once a week.. that $3.85 would really hit hard on a tank of gasoline…

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Yup 3.85 about the cost of one of those starbucks coffee things

    The problem in NoVa land is that we are heading towards a civil war over what needs to be done

    The innerburbs want all transit and no roads

    The outerburbs want the opposite

    The result I fear is 50% of each which will result in no noticable improvement for Transit or Car users

    I used to hate Arlington but I am beginning to see their point. The majority of their residents use mass transit more than cars. The fact that I-66 backs up doesn’t effect most Arlingtonians. All Arlington is doing is representing the interests of their people.

    So what it the ultimate solution to all this. A regional governing authority? but we still have the split agenda.

    We could have I-66 be 8 lanes wide but it still would jam up at Arlingon and then there is the nasty bridge problem


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t understand. The Richmond Times-Dispatch had a story way inside this morning aying that traffic was LESS!

    Have I been Media Generaled?

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 6:27 p.m., I’m not sure where the Times Dispatch got its data. It compared congestion between 1995 and 2005. Click the link on my original post, and you’ll see the data for yourself.

    Delay did improve between 1995 and 2000. But the T-D seems to be overlooking the more obvious story that the trends have deteriorated steadily since then, and the longer term prognostications are not very good at all.

  8. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    One mile of rail is equivalent to 10 lane miles of road in congested areas.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    “Congestion is directly correlated to the size of the metropolitan area. “

    Did you read the post above? Congestion is reduced by increasing the area. How hard is that to figure out? Those extra miles of road are going to have to go somewhere, and it isn’t cost effective to put them in already built up areas.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “One mile of rail is equivalent to 10 lane miles of road in congested areas.”

    Equivalent how?

    In number of passengers carried, maybe. In cost, maybe.

    In number of locations served, no way. In availability for use, no way (can’t use Metro after closing.). In the percentage of cost paid by the user, no way. In chance of getting a guaranteed seat, no way. In utility for uses other than carrying passengers, no way. (I can just see myself delivering hay via Metro.)

    Come on, Jim. I like Metro, I even use it. But I’m not blind, such a comparison as yours is not even close to reality.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, I make it to be $4.56 cents.

    Yes, you are right. It would be worth it.

    If everybody paid the $4.56 and all the congestion went away.

    But that is not what is going to happen with congestion pricing as now planned. Only a few people will pay and everbody else will still be congested. In London, congestion fees much higher than this have resulted in a congestion savings of a few seconds on a forty minute trip.

    Your analysis is simply wrong.


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    “The majority of their residents use mass transit more than cars.”

    This is a popular perception, but I doubt if it is actually true.

    My brother uses transit to get to work, Five days, ten trips, 15 miles. Then on the weekend he drives to St. Mary’s to the boat, or to go skiing etc. Two days, two trips, 300 miles.

    Transit only accounts for 6% of travel in the area. Maybe it is a little higher in Arlington, but it is probably still a long way from a majority of use.


  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, how much stock do you own in Easy pass?

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 8:10, Look at the data. The most congested regions in America are the largest regions (in population). Each step down in population is correlated with a reduction in congestion.

    Another question is whether population *density* is related to congestion. My sense is that there is a “sweet spot,” an optimum density, for auto-centric transportation systems. Not sure exactly what that sweet spot is.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Don’t own stock in EZPass… but there are new high-tech companies.. in the business of producting equipment such as high-speed tolling gantries and now…even camera systems that instantly recognize and record license plates of cars travelling at 65 mph or higher … AND that technology is being used to not only ‘ID’ toll scofflaws … but now… it’s actually being used to automatically bill autos without them having to have the transponders at all.

    In other words, the default technology … very soon.. will not require a transponder at all.

    Think about what this means.

    you do a study.. the study indicates that the road is needed, you build the road and put the tolling cameras on that road – and the road gets paid for by those that use it.

    The new road not only charges what it costs to build, operate and maintain it but it also charges whatever toll is necessary to keep the road operating at reasonable congestion levels.

    now the folks who want to collect money from everyone by raising the gas tax.. won’t like this idea.. but I think they will be outnumbered by the folks who will much prefer the quid pro quo.. fee for service…

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    When you said size I thought you ment area. If you are talking size of population you are correct.

    I suspect you are right about optimum density, but I’d suggest it is an optimum density mix: residents per square mile, employment opportunities per square mile, and lane miles per square mile. Probably income is a big player, too.

    There is probably a different density sweet spot when you throw other modes in the mix, including commuter rail and subway.

    Here’s a test. Each of us get into the car and drive around for an hour. See how many spots you could reasonably reach, conduct business and come home in two hours time. Use the middle of the day,not rush hour.

    Each report the number of sites and the population density of the area.

    TMT gets Tysons, JAB gets Poquoson, I’ll take Marshall, EMR’s got Warrenton, Darryl can have Chesapeake, and JB can have someplace around Richmond.

    In a couple of weeks we can do it again on foot. I suspect EMR will win that one hands down in Warrenton. Might win the first round, too.


  17. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray – I don’t know about the middle of the day at Tysons, but a couple of years ago, it took me more than 30 minutes to drive a little over a mile through Tysons Corner in order to get on the Beltway at around 6 p.m. There were no weather problems or accidents in the area.

    Moreover, cut-through traffic through neighborhoods and even school parking lots is increasing. Fairfax County’s solution — make Tysons Corner even bigger and generate even more automobile traffic. Look at the various documents on the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force’s website, a link to which is on the County’s homepage.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    You made a mile in 30 minutes? You did well. It once took me longer than that to make it through one intersection.

    If you want me to conduct any business in Tysons, you are going to have to subsidize me substantially.

    Oh, that’s right, Metro lives on subsidies.


  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    but you don’t need to subsidize ANYONE to do business in Tysons.. they have the opposite problem…

    In fact, Fairfax and most of NoVa have the opposite problem.

    You don’t need to pay folks any subsidy at all to want to live, work and play or 2 out of 3.. in these areas…


  20. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, I don’t understand your point. a lot of people would like to live and work in Fairfax. That was my orginal goal when I purchased a home within a mile of my office.

    Over time, it did not work out the way I expected, and I eventually turned into a long distance SOLO commuter. Since then I have reduced my commute, and my commute costs.

    I was lucky. Most people can’t do it.

    But not too long ago I quit a job in Tysons that paid at the 95% level.

    I took a job that paid even more, closer to home.

    When I quit, my previous employer offered to pick up my transportation costs, and I told them no, no way. You would have to pay my transportation costs, and my time.

    That was a no dice deal. Even if I worked on the train, so that his labor costs were covered.

    My current employer offered a better overall package, closer to home. And I can work at home, sometimes.

    What do you suppose the choice was?

    If this keeps up, Fairfax is history, just as the District is. They are going to have to start paying their locational costs, or else they will lose to the competition.


  21. Anonymous Avatar

    What do you mean, we don’t have to subsidize anyone? Isn;t that waht just happened with VW?


  22. Danny L. Newton Avatar
    Danny L. Newton

    “One mile of rail is equivalent to 10 lane miles of road in congested areas.”

    This sounds like something that came out of the Sierra Club. If you mean one mile of rail equals 10 lane miles used as a parking lot and everybody is going one mile an hour on the road… maybe that is true. But, the upward capacity of a single lane of traffic is about 1500 vehicles per hour. If you cheat and follow dangerously close, you could get over 2000 per hour per lane. If you figure 219 foot stopping distance plus 12 feet for the car, no trucks and a mile of cars going 70 miles per hour, a car would pass you every 2.255 seconds. That works out to 1595.9 cars per hour per lane. Ten lanes would make that 15,959 cars per hour. If one car had only one passenger, then the mythical train that is better than 10 lanes must carry 15,959 passengers. The only problem is that according to government statistics, light rail speeds are only averaging about 23 miles per hour. Lets ignore that and say the train and the string of cars are going 70 MPH but the train needs at least ten minutes headway or safe stopping distance between trains. For a one hour trip, that would degrade the average velocity to 61.249(58.3 miles at 70 MPH plus 2.916 miles to stop) miles per hour so the train would have to carry even more passengers to make up for the headway. I get 18,239 passengers on the train. I think at 50 passengers per train car that would be a train of 364.7 cars. At $3 million per train car, this train of passenger cars would cost $1.09 Billion dollars. At $30 million a mile, you could build with the same $1.09 Billion, 145 lane-miles road. I say cash in these mythical trains on Ebay and buy some more lane-miles.

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