One of many curses embedded among the many blessings of dwelling in a quickly rising state and a quickly rising area inside that state is site visitors congestion. The sheer variety of extra individuals shifting to South Carolina each day places extra automobiles on our roads, which not solely retains us caught in site visitors for longer but in addition tears up the surfaces of the roads and bridges we now have to drive over.
As The Put up and Courier’s Steve Garrison stories, the latest report from the Washington road-building advocacy group TRIP places these prices in painfully comprehensible phrases, estimating that drivers within the Charleston area lose a median of 56 hours per 12 months because of the site visitors congestion, at a price of $1,165 per driver and an environmental price of an additional 22 gallons of gas burned. That’s form of like working an additional week and a half a 12 months — and having to pay your boss to allow you to do it.
The congestion in the remainder of the state isn’t practically as unhealthy — from a lack of 43 hours and $842 a 12 months in Columbia to 26 hours and $615 within the Greenville-Spartanburg space — however they’re nonetheless important prices. Not counted in these numbers is the toll bumper-to-bumper site visitors takes on our emotional well-being.
It’s a helpful reminder that we now have to repeatedly put money into sustaining and repairing our roads and bridges as these roads and bridges — similar to our vehicles and houses — deteriorate over time. And that as our inhabitants will increase, we now have to search out methods to make sure that individuals can get the place they should go. And that if our authorities doesn’t make investments usually and sufficiently in our roads and bridges, we now have to pay individually, in much less direct and in some circumstances extra painful methods.
It additionally ought to remind us that it is important for elected officers to make the perfect selections about how and the place to spend what ought to at all times be a restricted quantity of transportation infrastructure funding. That ought to imply, amongst different issues, not constructing entire new interstates after we can accomplish the identical targets by enhancing present highways.
However whereas it’s important to enhance and beneath sure circumstances increase our freeway community — maybe at a quicker tempo than we’ve been doing it — it’s equally essential to bear in mind what that gained’t accomplish.
First, and maybe most surprisingly, it gained’t remove congestion. Our inhabitants is rising practically as quick as we will construct new lanes on our interstates, and that’s earlier than you think about induced demand: the way in which constructing new lanes and roads encourages extra individuals to make use of that new capability. So finally, getting out of the congestion has to incorporate getting out of the site visitors itself — through the use of public transportation or shifting shut sufficient to our workplaces to bike or stroll to work or by spending much less time commuting.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic let quite a lot of employers and staff uncover the draw back to telecommuting, it additionally taught us all that working from dwelling actually is feasible and doesn’t should be an all-or-nothing proposition. Employers can permit hybrid work schedules the place staff earn a living from home three days per week and are available to the workplace on the opposite two. These and equally versatile adjustments not solely cut back office stress but in addition cut back the stress on our highways.
Second, and most essential, decreasing site visitors congestion gained’t remove freeway fatalities; it won’t even measurably cut back them.
What the TRIP report does is conflate trigger and impact. The best freeway dying charge within the nation definitely is the impact of one thing. However that one thing isn’t the unhealthy situation of our roads or the truth that there aren’t sufficient lanes to get us the place we wish to go as quick as all of us wish to get there, at the least not primarily.
The principle purpose South Carolina has 1.73 fatalities for each 100 million miles traveled — greater than 50% above the nationwide common — is that the individuals driving on these roads aren’t cautious sufficient. We drive too quick, we’re too prepared to drive drunk, and even after we’re not inebriated or dashing, we’re far too reckless — though we’re way more reckless after we’re dashing or drunk.
Whereas a part of that is likely to be associated to the S.C. psyche, it’s additionally displays how our Legislature has by no means seen match to move legal guidelines to crack down on drunken driving, and it hasn’t seen match to fund the variety of Freeway Patrol troopers essential to persuade individuals they’re more likely to get stopped and ticketed in the event that they velocity excessively or in different methods drive recklessly.
So sure, it’s at all times applicable for our Legislature to think about investing extra in enhancing and in some circumstances increasing our highways and bridges; that may probably embody utilizing some federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for strategically focused enhancements, akin to I-26 between Charleston and Columbia.
However it’s at the least as essential for lawmakers to take a position some political capital in making our DUI regulation enforceable, and to take a position some tax cash in placing extra troopers on our highways to implement that regulation.