“If we do not invest in our infrastructure, we will let conditions move us backwards.” ~ Anthony Foxx, outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary
On January 9, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) issued a comprehensive Beyond Traffic 2045 report, a culmination of over two years of examination and research into transportation challenges and trends we’ll face over the next thirty years. In his introduction to the report, outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx states: “Transportation matters more than just as a way to get us places. Transportation, for good or ill, shapes places.” We in Central Texas know very well how transportation shaped and continues to shape our region.
In the same vein as my previous blog posts, USDOT identified the connection between transportation options and affordable housing, as well as how traffic congestion impacts climate change. My agency is driven to sustain and improve overall quality of life by implementing smart and innovative transportation options that keep Central Texas moving.
The 239-page report is not a light read, but it is an interesting one. And I’m not the only one who thinks so; the draft version published last year was downloaded over 500,000 times, according to the release, and received thousands of public comments from various community and online forums.
The costs of congestion
The report also takes a keen look at an issue we in Central Texas relate to: traffic congestion. On average, the American driver spends 42 hours – an average work week – sitting in traffic. But it’s not just time we’re all losing; it’s also $160 billion lost by congestion delays and lost fuel. We are singularly focused on giving Central Texas back their time lost in traffic with the transportation options we provide, like our congestion management tool, express lanes. And as mentioned in an earlier blog, we have documented how the 183A Toll Road saves time, and reduces emissions and fuel consumption; we design our current and future roads to have similar positive impacts.
- How we move things – Freight volume is expected to increase by more than 40 percent, partly driven by online shopping, adding extra demand to our transportation networks.
- How we adapt – Predicted rises in global temperatures and mean sea levels, and more frequent and intense storm events, could drastically affect highways, bridges, public transportation, coastal ports, and waterways.
- How we move better – Automation and robotics will affect all modes of transportation, improving infrastructure maintenance and travel safety, and enabling the mainstream use of autonomous vehicles.
- How we grow opportunity – Middle- and low-income American households spend, on average, nearly 20 percent of their income on transportation and 40 percent on housing—higher shares than for wealthier Americans.
- How we align decisions and dollars – Federal gasoline-tax revenues have failed to keep up with our transportation needs and could decline further as vehicle fuel efficiency improves, and inflation further erodes purchasing power.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation news release, 1/9/2017
So, what’s next?
Putting the “action” in our transportation planning
Beyond Traffic is, as Sec. Foxx concedes, merely a survey – not an action plan. The “action” part is up to us and we are up to the challenge. The report states that the federal government cannot fully resolve the mobility ills that each community or region faces. We in Central Texas know what works for us, and we must work collaboratively together toward implementation. This means we have to be creative about identifying funding options available to us, such as public-private partnerships (P3s) and toll financing. We look forward to how that opportunity develops here in Texas.
The Mobility Authority appreciates the work of USDOT in preparing this report and we’ll use it as a resource in our planning, and to stimulate conversations. If you have any comments on the report, or any other transportation issue, please don’t hesitate to forward it to us here.