03/23/07 — Study: City gets A-minus for controlling congestion

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Study: City gets A-minus for controlling congestion

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 23, 2007 1:49 PM

Goldsboro earned high marks for its efforts to reduce traffic congestion in a study done by a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The study was released by the independent John Locke Foundation and the Reason Foundation, which noted that Goldsboro ranks ahead of most metropolitan areas of its size, and many that are much larger.

Goldsboro received an A-, matched only by Asheville and Jacksonville. Hickory, Rocky Mount and Greenville earned a B-, B, and B+.

Charlotte received the state's worst grade, a D.

The study, titled "Traffic Congestion in North Carolina: Status, Prospects and Solutions," was done by Dr. David Hartgen, a professor of transportation studies. The study was done for the John Locke Foundation, an independent, non-profit think tank, with contributions from the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.

After reviewing more than 1,300 planned transportation projects in each of the state's 17 metropolitan areas with a population greater than 50,000 people, Hartgen determined how each project would relieve traffic congestion compared to that area's expected congestion growth.

In Goldsboro, current traffic congestion is relatively modest, his study said. A commuter's travel time during the peak hour of the day is only about 4 percent longer than during an off-peak hour, according to the study's findings.

Hartgen's research suggests that traffic delays in Goldsboro will more than double over the next 25 years. But planners are working to ease the expected problems. The city's transportation improvement plan and its long-range plan propose spending about $938 million over the next 25 years on road improvements. Some of those improvements include the proposed U.S. 70 Bypass north of Goldsboro and widening nearly all of the city's major arteries, including Berkeley Boulevard, Wayne Memorial Drive, New Hope Road, Ash Street and Royall Avenue.

Goldsboro Transportation Planner Darryl Best said the city is also working to implement a computerized traffic signal system sometime over the next four years. The system would ease traffic by coordinating stoplights along all of Goldsboro's roads. State plans do not allocate money for the $4.5 million project until 2011. But Best said the city is considering some options, including a partnership with the state Department of Transportation to share costs. If Goldsboro could capitalize on that partnership, the city could begin implementing the system this fall, he added.

According to the study, the amount of lane-miles added by the proposed projects as compared to the amount of expected congestion growth could potentially save commuters more than 7,200 driving hours daily.

But paying for those projects could prove to be a problem, Hartgen admits.

North Carolina Department of Transportation Division 2 Engineer Neil Lassiter said last May that each state division is under tight spending constraints because of a projected $500 million reduction in funding through 2008. That cutback affects everything from highway paving projects to fixing potholes.

Department of Transportation Board Member Tom Betts, who represents Division 4 that contains Wayne County, said finding additional money for any project is a problem and a challenge.

"Even if we had an unlimited amount of money, we'd still never have enough," he said.

According to the study, Hartgen says the balance between the funds needed and funds available leaves no room for error in costs -- an unlikely situation.

But the study does make suggestions as to how Goldsboro can manage its traffic congestion problems in coming years.

Much of Goldsboro's plans rely on the assumption that the proposed bypasses for U.S. 117 and U.S. 70 will be completed. Hartgen suggested the city consider the impact and possible solutions if one or both of those projects are not completed.

The city and surrounding areas and businesses could also investigate the feasibility of work-at-home promotion programs to alleviate some of the expected congestion, he said.

Goldsboro and Wayne officials also should realize that increasing congestion could threaten the area's economy, the study said. They should give priority to the projects that reduce congestion the most, according to Hartgen's findings.