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Breathing Room for People and Their Cars

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For many of us, Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer, is a time for relaxing with family and friends. Unfortunately for a lot of us, it is also a time of stress and frustration from hours spent in traffic getting to the beach or a family picnic.

I live in the Los Angeles area, the congestion capital of the United States. Planning a road trip requires adding in plenty of extra time to get where I want to go. But talking with family, friends and colleagues across the country, I find traffic congestion is a source of stress for most of us. We feel it has continued to worsen and we're right. Traffic in the U.S. jumped 236 percent between 1982 and 2001. During the same period the population grew only 20 percent.

In a recent survey of L.A. drivers, 20 percent said traffic was so bad at times that they turned around and went home. Nearly 25 percent report being stuck in traffic for more than an hour and 15 percent report two-hour delays.

Federal auto emission and mileage standards, which took effect this year, are projected to help lower greenhouse gases by an estimated 30 percent over the next few years. That will certainly help us breathe easier. But we also need more breathing space on our roads.

Finding new ways to reduce congestion will help reduce stress in our lives, improve economic productivity and help cut harmful emissions.

Nationwide, congested roads cost an estimated $78 billion annually in lost productivity and 2.9 billion gallons in burnt fuel. According to traffic studies in L.A., drivers lose an average of 70 hours each year-- the equivalent of three days -- due to congestion.

Experts, who study traffic snarls, agree that traditional solutions alone, such as more roads or more mass transit, aren't the answers anymore. It's time to seek out smarter, more innovative ways to tackle traffic congestion in a serious, systematic way.

Making adjustments in traffic management and taking advantage of available technologies can have a huge impact on easing congestion. The wait time at traffic lights can be adjusted to road conditions and help ease congestion whenever volume builds. Many communities, including L.A., use computer models to re-engineer traffic signals, helping to move traffic along major streets with the least number of stops. According to the Federal Highway Administration, each dollar invested in optimizing traffic signals returns an estimated $40 in time and fuel savings. Across the country, automated systems, such as EZPass and FasTrak, save time and fuel and help eliminate bottlenecks at toll booths.

We need to continue to look for many more innovative ways to relieve traffic congestion in order to help provide a more efficient commute for workers, boost our economic competitiveness, and make leisure trips less stressful. Using predictive analytics, roadside sensors, radio frequency tags and global positioning systems can be effective tools to keep traffic moving.

Now is the time to accelerate our efforts at using more modern, effective options to reduce congestion on highways, freeways and our neighborhood streets. If we do, we will enjoy more breathing room for ourselves and our cars.

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