Congestion costs the average Washington motorist more than $2,100 a year, according to a report released yesterday that seeks to quantify the costs of driving -- or crawling -- in a region with the third-worst traffic in the nation.
The Road Information Program, a District-based transportation research organization, said that drivers shell out $1,278 a year in lost time and fuel related to traffic backups; $353 in added vehicle maintenance costs; and $500 because of serious accidents caused by inadequate roads.
The report also stated that the pavement on more than half of the region's major roads is in poor or mediocre condition, that the average amount of traffic per highway mile has increased by 21 percent since 1990 and that rush-hour trips take 50 percent longer to complete than non-rush trips.
The report pulled data from several sources to calculate its findings, said William Wilkins, executive director of the research group, who added that it was designed to give people an alternate perspective on costs.
"People often may not want to pay for an increase in the gas tax or put tolls on the road, but by sitting in traffic, there's a cost there," Wilkins said. "We tried to put a price tag on that so motorists can see by not doing anything, they're still going to pay."
Although the report quantified the costs for area drivers, it focused on conditions in Virginia. Its release was coordinated with road and rail supporters across the state in advance of a legislative session that probably will focus on transportation funding.
Supporters of increased state money for roads and transit in Virginia quickly seized on the report as evidence that more is needed to fix inadequate infrastructure in the state, providing the latest volley in what has become an almost weekly debate over how to pay for more roads and rail.
Mark S. Ingrao of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance said the findings show that "what Virginians save at the pump in low gas taxes or with other low fees, they pay many times over in wasted fuel and time."
Others said the high costs associated with the findings would be critical in their efforts to convince a tax-averse legislature that the only long-term solution to congestion is to raise more money.
"Some folks don't let facts get in the way of a good campaign slogan," said William D. Lecos, president and chief executive of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, who repeatedly referred to the state's "sad legacy of neglect" at a news conference detailing the report's findings.
Three months before the General Assembly meets in Richmond, several transportation funding proposals have been outlined by lawmakers and interest groups.
An anti-tax slate of Northern Virginia Republicans recommended last month using expected budget surpluses to borrow money to pay for new infrastructure. That prompted Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Stafford) to voice his opposition to any borrowing plan. In a Tysons Corner speech last week, Chichester also suggested that he would back raising a raft of fees, and possibly taxes, to come up with funds, similar to an ambitious plan he backed during this year's session that died during tense budget and tax negotiations.
House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) have also said they are exploring funding options.
The Virginia Conservation Network, a statewide group of environmental organizations, announced yesterday a plan that would require any new transportation money to be tied to local land use decisions and efforts to decrease reliance on cars. The group also called for shifting funds toward public transit and freight rail and revising the Public-Private Transportation Act to reduce the influence of developers on funding decisions.
"We've indicated that we're supportive of talking about additional funding," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which is part of the Conservation Network. "But the bottom line is, we have to address the underlying causes of the traffic problems we are facing."