America gets a barely passing grade — a D — in the school of traffic control. It also is wasting up to $45 billion annually that could be saved just by improving traffic signal timing.
Both conclusions come from a Washington-based advocacy group, the National Transportation Operations Coalition. It released its "2007 National Traffic Signal Report Card" on Oct. 9.
Traffic monitoring and data collection, as part of the overall score, received the lowest possible grade of F.
The report card comes close on the heels of the Texas Transportation Institute's "2007 Urban Mobility Report," released in late September. That study estimates that 292 million hours of traffic delays and $5.4 billion in commuter expenses could be saved by expanding intelligent transportation systems. Proposed steps include entrance ramp metering, signal timing and incident management programs along major arteries.
Advanced vehicle communications such as vehicle-to-infrastructure wire-less data sharing might help Americans drive better over the next few years. But those are likely to be costly and slow to roll out.
Easy gains are available at low cost, and sometimes no cost, simply by re-timing and harmonizing traffic lights, said an engineer at the National Trans-portation Operations Coalition.
"We want people to be aware that improperly timed signals really do contribute to increased fuel use and needless delay. Small changes really can make a big difference," said Lisa Fontana Tierney. She is senior director of traffic engineering at the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
The city of Naperville, Ill., for example, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 206 tons a year and slashed peak travel time by more than 31 percent. How? It adjusted just three traffic signal systems on major roads.
Tierney said researchers at the transportation coalition estimate it would cost less than 1 percent of the $110 billion annual national highway budget to bring traffic signals up to an A grade. That level would reduce traffic delays 15 to 40 percent. The average commuter would save about 34 hours a year in wasted time.
"I really think that to achieve a level of A across the country is very much a reality," Tierney said.
The National Transportation Operations Coalition represents a group of transportation associations. It seeks to educate about roadway congestion, traffic management and improved air quality and fuel efficiency.