Economy down, traffic congestion down

A company that tracks traffic congestion suggests that congestion was down in a number of metropolitan areas in 2011 because of the economy:

Of the 100 most populous metro areas, 70 saw declines in traffic congestion while just 30 had increases, says Jim Bak, co-author of the 2011 U.S. Traffic Scorecard for Kirkland, Wash.-based INRIX…

Bak says the data show that the reduction in gridlock on the nation’s roads stems from rising fuel prices, lackluster gains in employment and modest increases in highway capacity because of construction projects completed under the federal stimulus program.

In some cases, the connection between job growth and increased congestion was clear. Cities that outpaced the national average of 1.5% growth in employment experienced some of the biggest increases in traffic congestion: Miami, 2.3% employment growth; Tampa, up 3%; and Houston, up 3.2%.

Cities that had big drops in congestion often were those that saw road construction slow considerably from 2010 to 2011 and those where gasoline prices were well above the national average at the peak in April 2011.

Does this fall into the small category of benefits of the economic crisis of recent years?

I would guess many metropolitan residents would be happy with less congestion but I would also guess they wouldn’t like the tradeoff of fewer jobs and higher gas prices. Of course, there have been discussions for years about how higher gas prices would limit driving. But does higher gas prices necessarily have to align with less growth?

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