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The Most for Our Money: Taxpayer Friendly Solutions for the Nation’s Transportation Solutions

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Publisher’s note:  Shirley Ybarra served as Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation from 1998-2002 and now works at the nationally respected Reason Foundation. The study referred to in this article mentions Virginia’s leadership in areas such as HOT lanes.
Reason Foundation, Transportation for America and Taxpayers for Common Sense release a report yesterday at a briefing on Capitol Hill.   The report contains seven suggestions to help improve the nation’s transportation system at taxpayer-friendly costs.  The seven ideas presented were those that all of us could agree were important.  While none of the strategies is a panacea, wider use has proven to relieve congestion and improve safety where implemented.

The seven suggestions are:

Scenario Planning:  This allows citizens to realize that encouraging future growth and development near existing infrastructure would reduce future congestion by more than 50 percent, at half the cost of other growth scenarios. This type of scenario planning, which resembles considerations made by the military and private corporations for decades, takes into consideration a broad range of concerns — from infrastructure costs to quality of life benefits — while ensuring that a community’s transportation investments are made with both fiscal constraints and the desires of its citizens in mind.

High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes:  These are cost effective and widely beneficial. HOT lanes allow single-occupant drivers to access high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for a fee. The fee is varied throughout the day to ensure that HOT lanes remain uncongested and move at a minimum speed. The tolls collected from users fund maintenance of the highway corridor and, in many cases also pay for express bus service that would not have otherwise been possible in the congested lanes. Meanwhile, drivers in the free non-HOT lanes experience reduced congestion and have the option to use the uncongested HOT lanes. (Reason has written many times about HOT lanes here.)

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT):  BRT typically runs on separate rights-of-way or on congestion-free HOT or HOV lanes and uses modern buses that allow for boarding at multiple doors. Passengers usually gain access to the system through modern stations that collect fares in advance to increase efficiency and minimize time spent in the station. BRT can be used along primary corridors or to supplement existing transit service. It holds great promise for communities looking for cost-effective and efficient transportation solutions. (Reason article on BRT appear here.)

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS):  These are technology tools that allow a HOT lane user to pay their toll without ever slowing down or a BRT rider to pay a fare in advance. They also help optimize coordination of traffic signals or deliver messages to signboards telling transit riders when the next vehicle will arrive. Many of these systems can be implemented at minimal cost relative to the resulting benefits and have a tremendous impact on congestion and safety.

Intercity Motor Coach and Bus Services:  The nation’s privately owned intercity and motor coach bus services account for more than 750 million passenger trips each year–more than the nation’s airlines. They do so with an extremely low level of federal subsidy, making this form of transport a taxpayer’s dream. Intercity buses provide transportation for many rural Americans and help move thousands of suburban dwellers into nearby cities and other job centers. They also play an increasingly important role in connecting densely populated urban centers, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. Each intercity bus can keep as many as 55 cars off the nation’s highways, playing an important part in reducing congestion and providing transportation choice for many Americans.

Telework/Telecommuing:  This is an increasingly popular choice for those wishing to avoid rush hour and work from their home or a nearby telework office. High-speed, reliable Internet access has reached most of the United States, making it possible for a number of employees to carry out their work responsibilities without the commute. When employers allow their employees to telework, it helps reduce the traffic load at the times of the day when congestion is at its worst, and it may have a beneficial effect on an entire region’s transportation system.

Connectivity:  This is a concept of improving the connectivity of local roads to offer multiple routes, rather than forcing local traffic onto the interstates and other major highways. When local decisions have a major impact on nationally important transportation corridors, Congress can help ensure that state and local governments are making decisions that preserve the federal investment, alleviate vehicular congestion, and extend the capacity of the nation’s interstates and highways.

The entire study can be found here.

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