Report Shows Twin Cities Traffic Congestion Crisis is No Accident
Twin Cities traffic congestion has reached the crisis point with metro area drivers stuck in traffic 47 hours per year on average compared to 12 hours in 1982. But instead of focusing on comprehensive congestion relief, the state agencies responsible for the transportation system—the Metropolitan Council and MnDOT–pursue policies that make the problem worse, according to a new Center of the American Experiment report.
The 24-page report, “Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident,” estimates the cost of wasted time, wasted fuel and increased pollution from commuters, delivery drivers and others stuck in traffic tie-ups totals nearly $4 billion a year, more than MnDOT’s $3.4 billion 2016 budget.
MnDOT’s most recent congestion report shows congestion rose to a higher level in 2015 than any year since the agency began measuring in 1993 and predicts the problem will only get worse. Numerous polls have found that Twin Cities residents consider congestion to be among the region’s most serious problems.
The study identifies underfunding of highways due to declining gas tax revenues, inflation and other factors as a key reason behind the dramatic growth in traffic congestion over the last three decades.
But a policy shift away from reducing congestion under the Dayton Administration has had even greater consequences for Twin Cities commuters. The Metropolitan Council and MnDOT specifically disclaim relieving traffic congestion as a priority.
“While funding is an issue, a more serious problem is that MnDOT and Metropolitan Council transportation officials have made a conscious decision to not try to relieve most congestion. Instead, their focus is on encouraging people to ride transit and other alternatives to driving,” the report states.
The report argues that serious traffic congestion is a choice rather than an inevitable fact of urban life. The Metropolitan Council’s pro-congestion plans contrast sharply with those of other urban areas like Indianapolis and Kansas City that have successfully sought to minimize congestion.
An aggressive construction program that expanded the number of Twin Cities freeway lane miles by 23 percent between 2004 and 2010 helped reduce delays for the average commuter by 10 percent.
But since then the Minnesota State Highway Investment Plans prepared by MnDOT have slashed the amount dedicated to congestion relief from seven percent of funding in 2009 to just one percent in the 2017 plan.
Moreover, the Metropolitan Council’s 2040 plan calls for spending 83 percent of state and regional capital funds ($6.9 billion) for expanding a transit system that carries just 6 percent of commuters. Only eight percent of capital funds ($700 million) would be spent on infrastructure for the 90 percent of commuters who rely on automobiles, the same total ($700 million) that would be allocated to bike, pedestrian and safety improvements.
“Part of the problem is the Metropolitan Council’s infatuation with light rail, a high-cost, low-capacity form of transportation,” the report contends. “The 2040 plan calls for spending almost ten times as much money on transit improvements and at least as much money on bike paths, pedestrian and safety improvements as it would spend on increasing the capacity of state highways.”
The report’s release launches a summer-long campaign by Center of the American Experiment to increase public awareness of the cause and effect of the Twin Cities traffic congestion crisis and what can be done about it. The campaign includes billboards, bumper stickers, radio announcements and a website where the report can be downloaded at www.MNCongestion.com.
“Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident” was authored by Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who has written extensively on transportation issues. O’Toole has testified before the Minnesota Legislature on the Twin Cities transportation system and impact of the Metropolitan Council. His previous work for Center of the American Experiment includes “Ten Fallacies of the Thrive MSP 2040 Plan” and “Off the Rails: How the Met Council Misplans the Twin Cities.”