The 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, released recently by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, details the effects of the end of the economic recession on urban congestion. Los Angeles again has the dubious distinction of being the No. 2 most miserably gridlocked city, trailing only Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, massive congestion is a complex problem that costs more than just gas money.
The annual cost of congestion in the L.A. area is $13.3 billion. If you are an average Angeleno commuter, you suffered through 80 hours of delays last year, costing time, money and elevated stress levels. If you got two weeks of paid vacation, this is like you spending that entire time in a traffic jam.
Sadly, by 2020, roadway congestion in large urban areas like ours will get exponentially worse. Already our roads are at the saturation point – too much volume and not enough capacity to handle mounting transportation requirements. Lanes can be added to existing freeways as has been done with the 405, but it’s clear building our way out of congestion for long-term relief will be a challenge. Our city’s multimodal infrastructure must keep pace with demand.
Excess congestion is not just inconvenient by bringing cars to a standstill, it has a significant negative impact on our city and its economy. Lost hours (both work and leisure) and delayed shipments translate into lost jobs, loss of business revenues and increased costs for nearly all business sectors across the region. Congestion is threatening our region’s place in the international marketplace.
L.A.’s global competitiveness depends on the development of a well-developed transportation plan that will increase our region’s economic and environmental sustainability, improve air quality and traffic congestion, and help reduce household transportation costs. Our city leaders and transportation agencies are actively tackling this massive problem to ensure that Los Angeles becomes a leading commuter-friendly global gateway with a thriving economy.
To achieve this, additional, innovative cost-effective transportation and mobility solutions need to be implemented quickly and efficiently to provide multimodal options to meet commuter needs. From improving bus rapid transit, light rail, streetcars, express lanes, ridesharing and bike lanes, offering commuters a choice of alternative options is critical to improving and expanding transportation corridors in the region.
Solutions come with price tags, however. While there is no shortage of critical infrastructure projects that need to be completed, lack of adequate long-term funding hampers the ability to get the job done.
Measure R, a half-cent sales tax for Los Angeles County, finances new transportation projects and programs, and accelerates those already in the pipeline. Because of Measure R, Los Angeles has embarked on a transit expansion to be admired – a virtual doubling of the size of the county’s fixed-guideway transit system to 236 miles and 200 stations.
Projects underway include the Expo Line Phase II, extending it from Culver City to Santa Monica; the Foothill Gold Line light-rail extension from Pasadena to Azusa; the Crenshaw Line light-rail project connecting the Expo Line to the Green Line and providing connections to Los Angeles International Airport; the Regional Connector, which will allow passengers to transfer among the Blue, Red, Gold and Purple lines bypassing Union Station; and the Wilshire subway extension enabling travel to and from Century City, Westwood, Beverly Hills and the Miracle Mile. These are improvements that will make a difference for our region, but more are needed.
Because Measure R alone does not fully fund all projects, we need to look at additional funding sources for essential programs, including Measure R2, which potentially could be placed on the ballot next year to raise the sales tax.
According to a recent HNTB Corp. survey, Southern Californians are hungry for a more accessible and efficient multimodal transportation system. Three out of four – 75 percent – said they would fork over their own money to have a better travel experience. And if local multimodal mobility choices were more available and convenient, many indicated they would be more willing to switch to public transit.
One beneficial effect of excess traffic is its ability to encourage drivers to consider other transportation options. Whether that involves using light rail, bus service, streetcars, bikes or walking, these alternatives reduce traffic on the roads, have less of an environmental impact and lower the stress associated with driving in heavy traffic.
To ensure that Los Angeles is an accessible world-class city with a thriving and competitive global economy, we must encourage a major collaboration by the public and private sectors to collectively focus on improving all modes of transportation. This will take time, resources and perseverance, but we are on the right track to develop innovative long-term regional transportation solutions that help take traffic congestion out of the equation.
Graham Christie is associate vice president, Southern California rail and transit leader, for HNTB Corp.
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