IP-8-2004 ( September 2004)
Author: Randal O’Toole
In 2001, Denver was the nation’s twentieth-largest urban area, but by most measures it suffered the nation’s fourth or fifth worst congestion. The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) predicts that, under its 2025 regional transportation plan, the amount of time the average Denver resident wastes sitting in traffic will increase by 73 percent by 2025. RTD’s plan to build FasTracks will reduce this only slightly to a 65-percent increase.
Put another way, the average Denver commuter wasted about 50 hours a year sitting in traffic in 2001. DRCOG’s 2025 plan would increase this to 87 hours, while the addition of FasTracks would increase it to 83 hours. Neither DRCOG nor RTD have developed or considered a plan that would maintain congestion at or reduce it from current levels. Indeed, the increased congestion contemplated by those plans might lead one to call them “immobility plans.”
In contrast, the Independence Institute’s Center for the American Dream proposes a true Mobility Plan for Denver that aims to actually relieve per-capita congestion for motorists while at the same time providing better transit service than FasTracks would offer. Moreover, this Mobility Plan for Denver can be implemented without increasing taxes. The plan includes the following components:
- Insure that projects are cost effective by using a standard measure to evaluate transportation investments, namely the cost to the taxpayer per hour of reduced delay. Projects with the lowest cost per hour should be given the highest priority. This may include rail transit, it will certainly include bus-rapid transit, but it will also include more highway projects, especially toll projects.
- Don’t build FasTracks. This will make up to $900 million federal dollars available for activities that can actually reduce congestion, such as items 3, 4, and 6.
- Coordinate traffic signals throughout the metropolitan area.
- Build a network of express toll lanes throughout the region.
- Contract out the 50 percent of transit services that RTD currently operates. This will save tens of millions of dollars per year that can be applied to other transit improvements such as bus-rapid transit.
- Offer bus-rapid transit along all FasTracks corridors using, whenever possible, express toll lanes. Even where express toll lanes are not available, bus-rapid transit can provide faster, more frequent service than is currently provided in those corridors.
- Allow private transit operators to provide an expanded range of transit services throughout the metropolitan area.
- Provide cost-effective bicycle and pedestrian improvements that don’t impose unnecessary barriers on auto travel.
- Provide assistance to low-income families to insure they have the mobility they need to get out of poverty.
The Independence Institute estimates that, taken together, these actions will result in at least a 10-percent reduction in per-capita congestion from current levels. Because much air pollution is congestion related, this will greatly reduce air pollution. The plan will also improve transportation safety and provide significantly better transit service. Yet the total cost of the plan to taxpayers is likely to be well under $1 billion, most of which can be paid by Denver’s share of federal transportation dollars.