Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) released a report on expected urban growth and the role that transportation plays in metropolitan economies. Confirming numerous other studies, the “Gross Metropolitan Product and Critical Role of Transportation Infrastructure” report notes that Texas leads the nation for cities with the challenging combination of very large populations and growth rates that outpace the rest of the country. At the top of the list is Greater Houston, with a current population of 6.2 million and an expected 2012 economic growth rate of 3.5 percent. This is notably higher than the growth rates of other large metropolitan areas such as Chicago (1.2 percent), New York (1.8 percent), Atlanta (1.8 percent), and Los Angeles (1.7 percent). While this may be positive news for job growth and economic development in the Lone Star State, Houston’s already overburdened transportation system will face tremendous pressures.
At the same time that population and economic output is rising, public spending on transportation infrastructure is decreasing and congestion costs are increasing. In fact, Houston has been characterized as the 7th most congested city in the nation, with Houstonians paying an average of $1,322 a year in annual congestion costs. This issue is exacerbated in Houston due to its increasingly important role as a transportation hub. The USCM report highlights the role of international trade in our nation’s economic growth and its dependence on our freight movement system. However, the report also expresses grave concerns about the current state of that congestion system and the funding needed to expand and improve transportation infrastructure. For example, the Port of Houston Authority is currently awaiting a response from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an application to dredge a portion of the Houston Ship Channel and therefore expand its Bayport Container Terminal. Funding for this project and related infrastructure development is still uncertain.
We need innovative thinking on behalf of our public and private sector leaders to accommodate a larger population and greater demand on transportation infrastructure. Stressors such as congestion costs and environmental impacts will be intensified without strategic mitigation policies. As Houston and the rest of Texas continue to grow at an extremely fast pace, EDF is committed to help ensure that needed development is sustainable for our economy and our environment.