A sluggish economy, rising gas prices and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on transportation projects over the past decade may explain why traffic congestion in the Greater Akron area has improved in the last several years, according to the 2012 Congestion Management Process Report.
Released by the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS), the report also finds that while area traffic levels will likely increase between now and 2035 as economic growth returns, new congestion problems shouldn’t.
That’s fortunate for the area. Because the report also predicts that it’s unlikely that there will be a lot of project funding available to deal with new problems, at least in the near future.
The report identifies existing and future congestion in the Greater Akron area and presents recommendations to reduce or eliminate problems. The agency attributes recent declines in congestion to a combination of people driving less and local, state and federal government investments in the area’s freeways, arterials and intersections.
Transit Planner Nate Brugler notes that the completion of long-needed improvements on State Route 8 and Interstate 77 have resulted in improved traffic flow throughout the region. The completion of these projects frees AMATS to target the area’s limited and increasingly scarce project funds to other congested locations.
“Previous reports had more than 100 recommendations. Our latest report presents 25 recommendations targeting only the most congested areas in our region. This is consistent with our agency’s ‘fix-it-first’ approach, which stresses the importance of maintaining roads before expanding them,” Brugler explains.
Under this approach, costly roadway expansion projects are seldom embarked upon, typically only when congestion and safety problems are severe. The report recognizes that high-cost, large-scale projects are increasingly unlikely, due to fiscal realities, and that the area’s congestion problems will need to be addressed at a smaller and attainable scale.
Of the 25 recommendations presented in the report, Akron’s Central Interchange produces the greatest amount of congestion and - with an estimated $300 million price tag - it is by far the most costly.
Limited regional transportation funding places a complete, one-time reconstruction beyond reach. However, if the total project is broken into a number of smaller projects, improvement of this top congestion priority becomes more attainable, according to Brugler.
“For example, the Ohio Department of Transportation is in the planning phase of closing one of our area’s most problematic ramps at Wolf Ledges Parkway and I-76/77. This project is on our report’s list of freeway recommendations and should address a portion of the larger congestion issue in that area. We’re encouraging projects like this, which should provide incremental improvement in freeway congestion at a manageable cost,” Brugler observes.
The report will be a key element of the agency’s upcoming Transportation Outlook 2035, the area’s long-range regional transportation plan. The report’s 25 recommendations are available for viewing on the agency’s web site at amatsplanning.org. (A map and a listing of these recommendations accompany this blog.)