With the economy stuck in a recession and Seattle facing a major budget deficit, a new Reason Foundation report finds that reducing traffic congestion and improving travel times could boost the region's economic output by as much as $13 billion a year.
The Reason Foundation report examines the impact that population growth and longer commute times will have on five areas across Seattle by 2030: Columbia Center, the University of Washington, Factoria Mall in Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Of those locations, the Reason study says the biggest economic gains would come from eliminating severe congestion around major suburbs such as Redmond and the University of Washington, which could each add $13 billion a year to the regional economy and nearly $1 billion in annual tax revenues. The report found similarly large economic benefits for suburbs in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, and Denver.
Improving accessibility around major retail sites, the downtown area, and SEA-TAC could each deliver $3 billion to $5 billion in annual economic benefits.
"This report shows how important it is to prioritize taxpayer money on infrastructure projects with the best benefit-cost ratios," said Adrian Moore, vice president of research at Reason Foundation. "If you focus on the projects proven to improve mobility and eliminate traffic jams, your investment will be rewarded several times over. Shorter travel times increase worker productivity, spawn more jobs and help create more shopping, entertainment and dining choices."
"We studied eight cities and the findings are clear," said David Hartgen, author of the report, senior fellow at Reason Foundation and emeritus professor of transportation at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "Reducing traffic congestion by 10 percent improves productivity by over one percent. One percent may sound small, but in a city like Seattle, it can mean tens of billions of dollars in economic gains. The biggest gains come from enhancing mobility around suburbs, universities and malls. Smaller economic increases are made around central business districts and airports."
Traffic congestion is going to have increasingly negative impacts on Seattle's economy in the coming decades. The Reason Foundation says that by 2030 traffic congestion in Seattle will be worse than it is in today's gridlock capitol of America, Los Angeles. Reason finds that if infrastructure investments are aimed at the projects that will relieve the most traffic, Seattle needs to spend approximately $5 billion (in 2005 dollars) to eliminate severe traffic congestion by 2030. That's actually just a fraction of the more than $100 billion the region plans on spending on transportation in its current long-range plans.
The study makes several recommendations, including:
- Pay more attention to the accessibility of various locations, not just downtown.
- Remove bottlenecks throughout the region. Relatively modest expenditures can have major impact on travel times, particularly if congestion is relatively concentrated geographically.
- Add road capacity in and around the rims of cities. Investment in suburban accessibility often offers a very good return rate.
The Reason Foundation study takes an in-depth look at traffic and economic growth in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle.
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Chris Mitchell, Director of Communications, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109