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Public Roads - November/December 2004

November/December 2004
Issue No:
Vol. 68 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Improving Operations to Mitigate Congestion

mpetersMobility is one of the country's greatest freedoms. Our Nation's highly developed, efficient transportation system provides the public with a wide choice of where to live, work, and have fun. It also supports the Nation's strong, prosperous economy with access to raw materials and finished goods from across the country and around the world. Americans are some of the most mobile people on Earth, in the amount of personal travel and in business and freight travel.

Despite these successes, the current reality and future threat of traffic congestion may limit mobility. It is well documented that congestion slows productivity and economic growth, wastes fuel and time, and damages the environment. But often its effects are more insidious. Congestion saps a country's vitality and creativity. Who is to say what things are foregone because of missed business and social meetings, trips not taken, and constricted location decisions? It is not only observed congestion that may have deleterious effects; sometimes the threat of congestion is all it takes.

In the U.S. Department of Transportation, and particularly the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), we are making congestion mitigation a top priority. To be successful, a congestion mitigation program must employ a longterm, comprehensive strategy to preserve the Nation's system of roads and bridges, increase capacity and fix infrastructure bottlenecks, find an appropriate balance of modes, and make the system operate more efficiently. This issue of PUBLIC ROADS focuses on the last of these strategies, transportation management and operations. The articles discuss what is being done within FHWA and around the country to make the most of the transportation infrastructure that is already in place.

Historically, highway agencies have focused their efforts on building and maintaining infrastructure, with less attention paid to operating the system more efficiently to provide a higher level of service. This will have to change. FHWA has focused its congestion mitigation efforts on implementing near-term institutional and operational changes that can provide immediate congestion relief. The agency is promoting the idea that a 21st-century transportation agency needs to be a proactive, customer-focused, and performance-driven organization using a real-time and systems approach to managing transportation.

Additionally, FHWA is promoting the concept that transportation professionals must improve the relationships between governmental agencies and between government and other groups involved in operating and using the transportation system. The transportation system crosses jurisdictional and functional boundaries, so operational strategies will work only in an environment of cooperation and collaboration. Finally, many of the strategies that are most effective in mitigating congestion are backed by 21st-century intelligent transportation systems technology.

Aggressively managing the transportation system to reduce congestion is one of the major transportation challenges of today. FHWA is meeting that challenge through thoughtful policies, innovative solutions, and dogged determination. But those responses are not and cannot be the only solutions to the congestion problem. In a transportation system that is so decentralized, a broad range of organizations in the public and private sectors is an important part of this undertaking. Many of the innovations described in this issue were created by innovators in State and local transportation agencies and private industry and harnessed by travelers and freight carriers for individual and collective purposes. A large part of FHWA's task in congestion mitigation is to find out what works, no matter where it is found, and to spread the word. I am glad to be able to bring to you in this issue of PUBLIC ROADS what FHWA has found so far.

Mary E. Peters


Federal Highway Administration