California's Highway Infrastructure:
Traffic's Looming Costs
Oct 01, 2008
Kevin Klowden, Perry Wong and Soojung Kim

The price of gridlock is climbing dramatically.

Congestion has become unmanageable in parts of California, where residents' daily routines are marked by epic traffic jams and exasperating commutes. In 2005, for example, Californians in the state's nine largest urban areas lost 871 million hours of their time and burned 673.5 million gallons of fuel sitting in traffic.

In addition to impacting the quality of life, gridlock has a direct and measurable impact on the state's economy. California's Highway Infrastructure: Traffic's Looming Costs uses the current cost of congestion (defined as time and fuel wasted due to travel delays during peak periods) as a starting point, and examines exactly how much that burden will grow if road capacity remains unchanged through the year 2030. The authors also examine alternate scenarios to determine the extent to which future congestion costs can be mitigated by undertaking manageable levels of new road construction during the same period.

California's Highway Infrastructure: Traffic's Looming Costs predicts that if the state fails to add new capacity, congestion costs will rise from just over $19 billion per year in 2006 to more than $42 billion per year by 2030.

This study attempts to put a price tag on three potential courses of action directly relating to highway spending so that California officials can make more informed decisions about development, sustainability, and quality of life as the state continues to grow.

If lane-miles are added to achieve an annual 0.3 percent capacity increase each year, congestion costs will continue to climb, reaching $27.7 billion in 2030 alone. That may be a sobering figure, but it represents a substantial savings of 34.5 percent, or $14.6 billion, over the cost of taking no action.

Congestion is part of a greater overall pattern of underfunding and inefficiencies in the state's transportation infrastructure. The Milken Institute plans to continue researching this multifaceted issue in the months to come, examining the other key elements of infrastructure that must be addressed by California's state and local officials.