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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Study confirms our traffic jams are costing us big bucks

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

You probably don't need a study to tell you this, but here it is anyway: A recent study shows that traffic congestion has gotten worse — much worse — in Honolulu over the past 20 years.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute's latest survey of 68 urban areas, including Honolulu, traffic has worsened in just about every category the study could come up with. Here are some of the Honolulu facts:

  • Back in 1982, our freeways were congested about 17 percent of the time; today the figure is up to 43 percent.
  • It's worse on our arterial streets, like Farrington and Nimitz highways; the congestion level in peak travel times has gone from 44 percent in 1982 to 73 percent today.
  • Congestion today results in each O'ahu resident spending an average of 19 hours stuck in traffic every year; in 1982, the figure was less than half that.
  • The average rush-hour speed on Honolulu's freeways has dropped from 56 mph to 50 mph since 1982.
  • All that delay results in the average Honolulu resident burning an extra 47 gallons of gas each year; 20 years ago, it was only 11 extra gallons of gas. Today's delays cost each resident an extra $240 annually; when you add it up, the congestion costs the state $160 million every year.

Of course, we're not alone.

According to the study, combined morning and evening "rush hours" now last almost six hours every day in most American cities. According to Drivers.com you have to go back to the days of President Nixon, original lava lamps and Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In" to remember when rush-hour was only an hour long.

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that Honolulu is far from the worst urban area in the country. Overall, Honolulu ranks 30th out of 68 urban areas when it comes to roadway congestion.

Although none of that may surprise drivers here, it's still valuable information for our city and state transportation planners who have the task of trying to keep congestion from getting even worse.

The Texas study suggests what planners here already know, too: There's no way to build ourselves out of traffic congestion. To keep congestion from growing each year, the nation would have to build 1,800 new lane miles of freeways and 2,500 new lane miles of streets. Because we don't come even close to that, traffic just keeps getting worse.

The report suggests that a combination of factors is needed to solve the problem: more roads, more public transit, more efficient use of roads (car pool and contraflow lanes), intelligent transportation systems (camera monitoring, traffic light coordination), bicycle plans, and better community planning.

All of these are in the works, to some degree, in Honolulu. The city is getting ready to start construction on a $1 billion Bus Rapid Transit plan. We're going to spend more than $100 million in coming years on intelligent transportation solutions, and hundreds of millions more on alternative transportation. And, of course, we're going to need billions of dollars in expanded roads, just to keep up with the expected increase in travel.

But then, you already knew that, didn't you?

Reach Mike Leidemann at mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5460.