Here in Lent, a season given over to penance and reflection, south Louisiana motorists should have lots of time for their own form of self-imposed hardship — and for thinking about the error of their ways.
Drivers will be spending hours in traffic, a daily ordeal that might prompt them, as they brood behind the wheel, to consider how they got in this mess.
State lawmakers haven’t approved an increase in the gas tax since 1990, starving revenues for road improvements. In Baton Rouge, where traffic is especially bad, the Metro Council last year voted not to put Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s proposed transportation and roads tax on the ballot.
Although the regional tax burden for transportation has remained relatively flat, motorists are paying the consequences in other ways. A study released last year found that Baton Rouge drivers incur $2,466 in annual costs from bad road conditions, a figure that reflects extra expenses from lost time and fuel, as well as other spending on vehicle operations. In New Orleans, the annual price tag for motorists because of the substandard traffic grid was $2, 171, and in Lafayette, it was $2,024.
As the economy has rebounded, more people are driving, putting additional pressures on the traffic grid, economist Bob Pishue told The Wall Street Journal last November. “If jobs have increased by 3 percent, traffic has probably increased 4 percent or 5 percent,” Pishue said.
“With the recession now in the nation’s rearview mirror, congestion is worse than ever, but additional factors have helped drive it up,” The Journal reported.
As companies have cut back on the practice of telecommuting and ride-hailing services have grown more popular, traffic promises to grow even more, the newspaper added.
“Last year, congestion cost each U.S. driver $1,400 on average, for a total of nearly $300 billion,” WSJ journalist Jo Craven McGinty told readers.
Here’s some more bad news: In Louisiana and across the country, as traffic problems increase, congestion is becoming more than merely a rush-hour challenge. In 2014, according to researchers at the Texas A&M Research Institute, about 40 percent of the traffic delays in the United States occurred during off-peak hours.
Recently, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a plan for $600 million in infrastructure improvements, including a $350 million project to expand Interstate 10 from the Mississippi River Bridge to the I-10/12 split and up to $110 million to connect I-10 at Loyola Drive with the soon-to-be-expanded Louisiana Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
Those projects should help, but Louisiana has an estimated $13 billion backlog in unfunded infrastructure improvements. That means motorists will be paying a traffic penance long after this Lent — and many other Lents — are over.