Tolling by Time Reduces Congestion and Improves Air Quality

Traffic congestion is a growing problem in many metropolitan areas. Congestion increases travel time, air pollution, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and fuel use because cars cannot run efficiently.

Based on wasted time and fuel, the Texas Transportation Institute estimates that congestion in 439 urban areas cost the nation about $87.2 billion in 2007. The costs of congestion were concentrated in the most populous regions:

  • Approximately 2.8 billion gallons of fuel were wasted – metropolitan areas with populations greater than 3 million accounted for more than half of the total, or 1.6 billion gallons.
  • The amount of wasted fuel ranged from 11 gallons per traveler per year in smaller towns to 35 gallons per traveler per year in the largest urban areas.
  • The average annual travel time delay during peak periods was 35 hours per driver, but ranged from 19 hours in small towns to 51 hours in the largest urban areas.
  • The average cost per traveler due to wasted time and fuel was $757 in 2007, up from $680 in 2004 (measured in constant dollars).

An inordinate amount of air pollution is emitted from cars in rush hour traffic because trips take longer and car engines are operating inefficiently. For example, one gallon of gas produces about 8.8 kilograms of CO2, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Thus, in large urban areas, more than 300 kilograms of CO2 per car is emitted into the air annually from wasted fuel alone. 

Limits of Traditional Toll Roads. Revenue for highway construction and maintenance is declining, yet demand is increasing. Instead of building more traditional freeways, most state transportation departments are building toll roads or toll lanes beside or above traditional freeway lanes. Thanks to new technology, such as two-way radio receiver/transmitters programmed to respond to an activation signal, collecting tolls is economical and does not cause backup from tollbooths. Though toll roads almost always pay for their construction and maintenance, they are less effective at reducing congestion than they could be if they were managed more effectively.

Read the full NCPA Brief Analysis, “Tolling by Time Reduces Congestion and Improves Air Quality.

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