Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Stephen R. Mueller

Everyone is complaining about traffic congestion. At the Independence Institute, we’ve said it time and time again: it’s not the growth, it’s the traffic that has everyone upset. The most important thing we can do to alleviate traffic congestion in the western metropolitan area is to complete the 470 Loop near Golden.

For many years, studies by the Denver Regional Council of Governments have shown the best solution for both air pollution and traffic congestion is a highway loop, or beltway, system which allows people to drive around the city instead of through it. This disperses cars, and therefore emissions, over a wider area and, perhaps as importantly, saves people time and money.

Neighborhoods in Golden, Westminster and Arvada would benefit if commuters travel through their communities more quickly and without car engines idling at stoplights, which is when cars pollute the most. Our priorities and the actions which would most improve the quality of life in the metro area should be removing bottlenecks and other capacity limitations, improving traffic signal coordination, and completing the 470 bypass loop.

Nearly every major city in America has a highway bypass loop, and Houston is currently working on its third. Cities that have grown large more recently have proven that highway bypass loops assist in preventing the kind of central city congestion that affects older cities that grew large before the concept of bypass loops was prevalent. Ideally, as

Houston is demonstrating, the original bypass loop should be located six miles from the city center and then each additional loop should be six miles in diameter from the original. E-470 is located about 13 miles from the center of Denver, forever dooming the downtown metro area to more than its fair share of traffic congestion.

We’re way behind schedule completing the bypass loop around Denver, and as increasing traffic congestion and air pollution shows, we’re getting further behind every day. The blame can be placed solidly on political correctness and the activities of environmental activists and light-rail transit advocates, such as COPIRG, which recently included the northwest segment of the 470 loop on its recently announced “Sprawl of Shame” list. They want to take money from highway funds; money paid by highway users to support the roadway system ; and redirect the dollars to light-rail and fixed-route bus systems that only serve 2% of the population.

Due to bad decisions made by politicians and planners who have determined that 60% of the future metro area transportation funds will be spent on public transit projects instead of roads, the problems associated with traffic congestion and air pollution will only get worse. It’s ironic that the planners themselves have projected that, after 20 years of devoting 60% of all transportation funds to transit, that bus and light rail ridership will increase from a whopping 1.53% to a staggering 2.23% of all trips made in the metro area.

Transit advocates, environmentalists and planners seem willing to accept transportation-related costs to society that scare the heck out of the rest of us. They concede, “Roadway speeds will decline. Severe congestion will increase significantly. Person hours of delay will double. Fuel efficiency will decrease.” All this while they’re furiously adding light rail and bus routes.

During the last decade, Colorado grew by almost one million people (and a relative number of cars), but the roadway network was not expanded at a sufficient rate to handle this large increase in people and cars. Because we have limited our supply of roads during a time of increasing demand to use them, traffic congestion has increased dramatically. The Texas Transportation Institute studies traffic congestion in major American cities each year, and their Road Congestion Index for Denver shows traffic density increased by 2.8% last year, dropping Denver to 48th in the ranking of 70 cities evaluated. Whenever the efficiency of public roads is compromised, the benefits arising from efficient transportation disappear from society. In 1960, the American Association of State Highway Officials reported that “savings in time”;has value in direct ratio to costs of operation. It has value also for fixed costs such as overhead; “because saving in time of travel results in greater usage for given time.” In short, efficient transportation augments economic efficiency and enhances the wealth and opportunity of all society’s members and, conversely, inefficient transportation imparts an economic cost that diminishes the personal wealth of all.

If driving time delays double, then UPS will need more trucks and workers to provide the same level of service, making it impossible to lower costs to consumers through efficiency. The same can be said for FedEx, the postal service, furniture movers, pizza delivery, meter reading, garbage pick-up, telephone repairs, etc. Not only will it cost more to get bread to the grocery store, it will also cost more to transport the flour to the bakery.

C-470 and E-470 don’t and won’t serve their true purpose until the Northwest Parkway is completed and a new link between the southwest metro area and C-470 in Golden is built. We’re all paying for the delay.

Dennis Polhill and Steve Mueller are Senior Fellows with the Independence Institute. They co-authored this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; http://www.i2i.org This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to: Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Parkway, Suite 185, Golden, CO 80401. Phone (303) 279-6536 or FAX to (303) 279-4176; e-mail is webmngr@i2i.org.