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Study Faults Planning for Raleigh-Area Traffic Flow

Congestion equals a drag on the economy, UNC-Charlotte expert says while urging more road-building.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — If you've ever been stuck in rush-hour traffic, you’ve probably thought it, but now a study by a UNC-Charlotte professor confirms your fears. Triangle traffic is getting worse.

The study, carried out by David T. Hartgen, a professor of transportation studies, gives the Raleigh area a grade of “C”—passing, but barely, and not on a good track for the future.

Triangle traffic is getting thicker. From 1995 to 2003, the study found, travel increased more than the population, and the issue gets bigger with every backup.

“If we don't get ahead of this problem, we're going to have serious difficulties with the competitiveness of the region,” said Hartgen, who got funding from the John Lock Foundation and the California-based Reason Foundation for his work, which is available online(.

Overall, Hartgen ranked North Carolina 48th among the 50 states in urban interstate congestion. Raleigh’s "C" is for the metropolitan area’s plans to deal with cars clogging roads.

“Overall, Raleigh's congestion is going to double in the next several decades. The plans we have are just barely adequate,” Hartgen said.

Hartgen argues that Raleigh-area transportation officials spend too much on transit—buses and plans for a train. He would like to see more spent to finish Interstate 540 faster and to widen I-40 more.

The Locke and Reason foundations that supported the work historically don't support mass transit efforts, such as the Triangle Transit Authority. The TTA didn't want to comment on this latest research, but a spokesperson did point out that a citizen's committee is about to begin a six-month study on congestion.

Hartgen said his study came to one certain conclusion on the subject.

“We don't have a choice. The region's going to grow. The only question is, are we going to deal with it or pass it on to our children?” the traffic engineer said.

The term “congestion” has several components when traffic engineers use it. It includes a comparison between the number of vehicles using roads how many vehicles the roads can handle, how long delays back up at intersections and a factor called a travel-time index. That’s a comparison of how long it takes to get from one place to another during peak and off-peak travel times.

How does the Raleigh metro area stack up against the rest of the state?

The Capital City beat out Durham's C-minus and Charlotte's D. This study says the Triad is in better shape. Greensboro scored a B-plus, and Winston-Salem got a B. Asheville and Goldsboro each scored an A-minus.