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Study: Bottlenecks choking U.S. roadways

Lobby group says road system not keeping up with growth

Lobby group says road system not keeping up with growth

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• Interactive: Worst U.S. bottlenecks 
Road Transportation

(CNN) -- The number of traffic bottlenecks on U.S. highways and interstates has risen 40 percent in five years, according to a study released Thursday by an advocacy group for the transportation industry.

"Major bottlenecks ... have grown by 40 percent -- up from 167 bottlenecks to 233 bottlenecks over the past five years," said Bill Buff, of the group that sponsored the study, the American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA). Buff said the definition of a major bottleneck is one in which motorists lose at least 700,000 hours a year stuck in traffic

The study also notes that seven of the 18 previous top bottlenecks were fixed by construction projects.

"The good news is, there are a number of success stories -- major bottlenecks we identified in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Denver, Colorado, and in Houston, Texas, that aren't on our ranking anymore thanks to improvement projects," Buff said.

The report also says traffic clogs have been eliminated in Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; and Washington, D.C.

It said modest improvements at the 233 choke points would prevent 449,500 crashes and 1,750 fatalities over 20 years.

"What this study really shows is that there's hope for curing congestion," Buff said. "Sometimes there seems to be this myth that we're just stuck and there's nothing we can do to improve it. If you focus on these choke points -- which are a significant cause of area-wide congestion -- unclog these bottlenecks you can see major benefits across the nation."

Recent major road improvement projects have paid off, the study said.

The group points to $293 million reconstruction of the "Big I" interchange of Interstates 25 and 40 in Albuquerque as a success story. Hours of annual delay dropped from 16 million in 1997 to 1.1 million in 2002 as a result.

The AHUA is a nonprofit advocacy group that lobbies for more federal spending on highways and mass transit. Members include state highway departments, automakers, petroleum, trucking and construction compnaies.

It commissioned Cambridge Systematics to conduct the study, which said bottlenecks account for half of all traffic congestion.

"We have a growing economy and a growing population and our road system's just not keeping up with that growth," Buff said.

In addition to bottlenecks, traffic congestion is caused by accidents, work zones, bad weather and poor signal timing -- according to the report -- which was compiled using state transportation departments' information collected by the Federal Department of Transportation.

Bridges and toll roads were excluded from the study.

Buff said the new study includes a number of new bottlenecks. "Surprisingly, one in Providence, Rhode Island, just shows that big-time congestion can come to small and medium size cities," Buff said. "In addition, Tampa, Florida; San Jose, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; San Diego, California; and Cincinnati, Ohio; are all new to the top ranking this year."

Study: Worst U.S. bottleneck is in Los Angeles

The worst bottleneck in the study is the Ventura Freeway at Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. In 1999, the Ventura Freeway ranked No. 5. Four of the 10 worst bottlenecks are in the Los Angeles area.

After the Ventura Freeway, the worst bottlenecks were the Interstate 610-Interstate 10 interchange in Houston; Chicago's I-90/94-I-290 interchange; the I-10 interchange with state roads 51 and 202 in Phoenix; and the San Diego Freeway-Interstate 10 interchange in Los Angeles.

Highway Users is lobbying to support the passage of the SAFETEA highway reauthorization bill. The bill includes a $318 billion budget for federal road improvements.

On February 12, the Senate voted 76-21 to pass the legislation. The bill is opposed by the White House, which proposed spending $256 billion on highways and mass transit over the next six years.

The House recently voted to approve the extension of funding until the new spending bill can be considered.

"Congress, this month, has been debating long overdue highway legislation and we're urging them to end the debate and pass a new six-year highway bill that will dedicate significant funding to fixing these choke points," Buff said.

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