Planners should consider building and tolling more roads to reduce traffic congestion in the future, even though congestion in urban areas declined slightly in 2007 because of higher gas prices and may continue to do so because of the recession, the Texas Transportation Institute said a report released yesterday.

The annual report on urban congestion, which was written by researchers David Schrank and Tim Lomax, said planners should consider adding more road lanes, new streets, and highways, and new or expanded public transportation facilities in "important corridors or growth regions."

States and municipalities often issue tax-exempt bonds to pay for building and improving transportation infrastructure. The bonds typically supplement transportation funding generated by federal, state, and local fuel tax revenues.

"Additional roadways reduce the rate of congestion increase," the report argued. It cited evidence that between 1982 and 2007, urban areas where capacity growth matched traffic growth experienced congestion problems less quickly than areas where capacity did not keep pace with the increasing number of vehicles on the road.

The researchers said that urban areas should provide drivers with choices that include tolling some lanes to create higher speeds and more reliable transportation for drivers and freight shippers.

"New streets and urban freeways will be needed to serve new developments ... and toll highways and toll lanes are being used more frequently in urban corridors," the report said. "Capacity expansions are also important additions for freeway-to-freeway interchanges and connections to ports, rail yards, intermodal terminals" and other centers.

Los Angeles, Long Beach, and the Santa Ana metropolitan area ranked worst in terms of traffic congestion, according to the report. Drivers there spent about 70 hours stuck in traffic in 2007. The District of Columbia area had the second-worst congestion with 62 hours spent in traffic in 2007.

During the past 25 years, congestion has worsened the most in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Miami, and New York City areas. Time spent in traffic has more than tripled for all of those areas since 1982, according to the report.

However, the average amount of time drivers spent stuck in traffic decreased over a two-year period - about one hour less in 2007 than in the previous year, according to the researchers.

The report warned that decreased congestion was caused by circumstantial behavior changes, prompted in part by $4-per-gallon gasoline prices during the second half of 2007. "When the economy rebounds, expect traffic problems to do the same," it said.

As that happens, transportation officials should look to private sector businesses, manufacturers, and commuters themselves for help with meeting growing demand, the researchers said.

"There's a mindset that says that this is a city government's job or a state DOT's job, but the problem is far too big for transportation agencies alone to address it adequately," Lomax said.

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