Southeast will bear brunt of new traffic woes, Foxx says

A U.S. Department of Transportation draft report that predicts increased gridlock nationwide unless changes are made in the near term.

Projected population growth will re-shape and place new demands on the country’s transportation system, and that pressure will be felt most in the Southeast, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Friday in Charleston.

In the next 30 years, America is expected to add another 70 million people which is the equivalent of the combined population of New York, Texas and Florida.

“More of it (growth) is coming to the southeast than any other region,” Foxx said at a transportation forum where he was the keynote speaker.

The catalyst for the gathering of officials at Gaillard Auditorium was “Beyond Traffic,” a U.S. Department of Transportation draft report that predicts increased gridlock nationwide unless changes are made in the near term.

“I feel a particular need to tell you that this region isn’t ready for that growth from a transportation perspective. The road systems are not ready for it,” he said.

The forum is one of 11 that the DOT is holding nationwide to gather feedback for the final version of the report.

Foxx, who served as the mayor of Charlotte, said that 65 percent more trucks are expected to be on the roads in 30 years.

“For those of you who think you’ve got tie-ups now, you just wait,” he said.

“Let’s not be the folks that realize you are sinking when the water is over our head. Let’s think about being a region that gets ahead of that growth and takes tangible steps,” he said.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Nick Tennyson and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also were forum panelists.

Riley said in an interview that an increase in the state gas tax is needed for upkeep on peninsula streets. “All those streets are part of the state system,” he said.

The state gas tax of 16.75 cents per gallon hasn’t been raised since 1987.

The DOT report paints a picture of a transportation system in decline because of inconsistent, inadequate funding and static policies.

The quality of U.S. roads has dropped to No. 16 in the world. Traffic snarls mean drivers spend on average the equivalent of five days stuck in traffic annually. Trucks lose $27 billion on wasted time and fuel.

If things stay the same, “Transit systems will be so backed up that riders will wonder not just when they will get to work, but if they will get there at all. At the airports and on the highway every day will be like Thanksgiving is today.”

The report does not recommend specific solutions but is instead described as a call to action.

In the tri-county, mean travel time to work for solo drivers is 23.5 minutes and for carpoolers 26.5 minutes. Mean travel time to work for public transit riders is 37.8 minutes. Nationally, average commutes range from 16.5 minutes in Detroit to 35.5 minutes in Boulder, Colo. In smaller metros, like the Charleston area, times range from 16.6 minutes in Fargo, N.D., to 31.3 minutes in Stockton, Calif.

South Carolina this year approved $225 million for road maintenance, which fell far short of the $400 million the state Department of Transportation had requested. To improve roads and increase the capacity of the state’s highways, the department says it needs to add $1 billion in annual funding.

The SCDOT oversees the country’s fourth-largest highway system. According to the DOT, 10 percent of interstate highway miles are in “poor” condition, 46 percent of federal and state highways are in “poor” condition, and half of secondary roads not receiving federal funding are labeled “poor.”