Frequently asked questions about Moving at the Speed of Congestion - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Frequently asked questions about Moving at the Speed of Congestion

MPC's 2008 report quantifies the cost of congestion to metropolitan Chicago.

What is the purpose of this study?
Only when people understand how much it really costs them to sit in traffic will they be willing – and will lawmakers be willing – to change the way we invest in transportation in this region. All traffic is not the same. Traffic patterns in the urban core are different from traffic patterns in the outlying counties. In order to determine the most efficient solutions, we need a deeper, nuanced understanding of the problem.

Who conducted the research for this report?
The report stems from a study commissioned by the Metropolitan Planning Council and conducted by HDR Decision Economics, in association with Alex Anas, PhD, professor of economics, State University of New York at Buffalo .

What counties are included in the study?
The study encompasses Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, including the City of Chicago . Kendall and Grundy counties also were included in the technical analysis, but contributed so little to regional congestion that they were omitted from the executive summary.

What are the key findings of this study?

      • Due to excess traffic congestion on the entire region’s transportation network, metropolitan Chicago squanders at least $7.3 billion a year in lost time, fuel, productivity, and environmental damages – nearly twice the largest previous estimate.
      • If nothing is done, that figure is predicted to grow by 55 percent by 2030, more than twice as fast as the region’s population, to about $11.3 billion a year.
      • The $7.3 billion total regional cost includes the cost of lost time, fuel and environmental damages, which are the following:
        * $6.98 billion in lost time
        * $354 million in wasted fuel (Estimate is based on 2005 fuel prices; today’s gas prices drive that figure closer to $680 million.)
        * $33 million in environmental damages (Researchers say this is a very conservative estimate.)
      • Gridlock also increases labor costs, impeding the creation of 87,000 jobs.
      • Lost time costs the Chicago-area economy and its drivers nearly 20 times more than the cost of wasted fuel.
      • Regionally, congestion adds 22 percent to peak period travel times, or about 66 extra minutes each week for a driver whose commute should take 30 minutes each direction. Within Chicago itself, congestion increases peak period travel times by about 40 percent, or about 120 minutes extra per week for someone with a one-hour round-trip commute.
      • The cost of a solution must not exceed the cost of congestion.
      • Solutions must balance the needs of business, society, and the environment.
      • Solutions must be regional in scope.
      • Solutions must address congestion on expressways and arterial roads.
      • Solutions must address wasted time as well as fuel.

The study determined that gridlock causes weekday travel times to be about 22 percent higher than they rightfully should be, which means a trip that should take 30 minutes takes closer to 37. Drivers in our region have adapted to irregular congestion by building buffer time into trips. Extra time may be necessary and may not, but in the end, lack of certainly results in wasted time and money.

Congestion is greatest (in terms of lost time) in and around Chicago and Cook County, particularly on expressways. Cook County is the primary destination for most of the region’s workers: 41.5 percent of DuPage County residents work in Cook County , followed by Will (40 percent), Lake (35 percent), McHenry (31.6 percent), and Kane (27.3 percent). In other words, much of the traffic in and around Chicago originates in surrounding counties.

However, the majority of the region’s lost time due to congestion actually occurs on arterial roads, not highways. Congestion (measured both in vehicle-miles and vehicle-hours traveled) is worse on arterial roads than on expressways in all parts of the region except Chicago. What’s more, traffic on arterial roads has greater negative environmental effects than expressway traffic.


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