No one likes to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. No one likes the idea that businesses might bypass South Carolina because of traffic congestion. So we’re glad that state lawmakers are again turning their attention to our roads.
As The Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox reports, Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman has assembled a special committee to find a way to reduce congestion on the interstates, which he said has put the state at risk of “choking off the (economic) growth we are experiencing.”
Unfortunately, the solutions we typically consider probably won’t work. It’s unlikely that simply adding more lanes or even building whole new roads could ever get congestion under control: Our population is growing nearly as fast as we can build lanes, and that’s before you factor in induced demand: the added traffic that new lanes and roads create.
And even if it were possible to reduce congestion by building more highway capacity where state legislators think it’s needed, that would either divert money from more important road projects already in the works — many of them focused on safety rather than mere convenience — or else require billions of dollars in new taxes that there’s no reason to believe legislators would approve.
It was just two years ago that the Legislature increased the state’s gas tax and other road-related fees to fund a long-overdue road repair and expansion program that critics said was woefully inadequate even at the time. Every penny of that money is spoken for to repair dangerous bridges and crumbling roads, to straighten out deadly intersections and, yes, to resurface and widen interstates. And still, Sen. Nikki Setzler told the panel gathered this month to address congestion, we have “catastrophic needs” that must be addressed so we won’t be “left behind the rest of the Southeast.”
He may be right. But if we want to reduce congestion, we have to think about more than simply increasing capacity. We have to think about reducing demand. We have to rethink transportation — all of us, as individuals, as communities, as a state.
We have to embrace public transportation — which the S.C. Transportation Department seems particularly reluctant to do, perhaps because the Legislature has so little interest in it. We have to think more carefully about whether, where and when to drive. We have to consolidate trips, and time them to avoid the worst traffic and, yes, rearrange our work schedules.
This summer, the State Ports Authority started opening the gates at its North Charleston and Wando Welch terminals an hour earlier, at 5 a.m., in order to reduce traffic on I-26, I-526 and surrounding arteries and to save time for truckers, by making it easier for them to avoid those roads during peak hours. (The port says its plan to barge cargo between its Mount Pleasant and North Charleston terminals and that would eliminate a projected 200,000 trucks from area roads every year.)
Few employers can have the sort of impact on traffic that the port can have, but many can play a role by shifting their business hours and allowing and encouraging more flexible shifts and occasional or even regular telecommuting. State and local government agencies ought to be leaders in this effort, if only out of self-preservation: If the Legislature decides to spend more money on roads, that money is likely to come from the rest of government.
– The Post and Courier of Charleston