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By Scott Bowles | Sept. 23, 1999
Some of the nation's largest and most expensive road construction projects will save motorists just 30 seconds on the commute when they're completed, according to a study of highway data out today.
Moreover, motorists are losing more time in road work delays than they will save in years of driving on the improved roads, according to the report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a group in Washington, D.C., that tracks public transportation use.
The group says road improvements will be offset by increased traffic volume. Communities considering large projects ''should think long and hard about whether more roads are really the answer,'' the group's Roy Kienitz says.
Transportation officials counter that an unprecedented road construction boom is under way not only to ease congestion but to keep drivers safe.
According to the report:
* In Springfield, Va., an 8-year, $434 million construction project delays drivers 30 minutes on each rush-hour trip through the massive interchange known as the ''Mixing Bowl'' because it blends traffic from three interstates. When work is done, drivers will shave about half a minute off their drive through the interchange, from 2 minutes to 1 minutes.
* In Salt Lake City, a four-year, $1.6 billion facelift on 16 miles of I-15 will raise average speeds through that stretch of highway only about 1 mph.
* In Trenton, N.J.,a driver could spend an additional 250 hours in delays over the course of a three-year project on State Highway 29.
* In Nashville,motorists are delayed 15 minutes because of a $21 million construction project on I-24. But drivers can expect to cut commutes in half on that part of the highway when the work is done.
The report urged states to look to alternative means to ease congestion, including clearing accidents scenes more quickly and encouraging more bus and rail travel.
But traffic engineers say new roads must be part of the answer as well.
''Simply put, more people are driving every day,'' Houston traffic engineer Gary Brady says. ''You need someplace to put them.''