The people of Buffalo need relief. Relief from the ever-growing amount of time commuters spend in traffic and relief from the slow, stop-and-go traffic that causes cars and trucks to guzzle gas and spew even more intense air pollution.
The average Buffalo driver spends roughly 149 hours per year commuting to work. While gridlock may not be the city's top concern, it is a growing national problem. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, freight volume across the U.S. will double by 2020 while car traffic will continue to increase. However, highway capacity is projected to increase by only 10 percent during this time, which leaves commuters, drivers and freight traffic competing for space on the road. Cars idling and chugging through stop and go traffic emit worse pollution than cars moving freely, making this an environmental concern.
One solution is freight rail partnerships with the trucking industry. Today, one of the fastest growing segments of freight transport is intermodal shipping, when trucking companies place trailers and containers on trains for the longer portion of deliveries. This arrangement is environmentally sound and very successful.
A single intermodal freight train can take nearly 300 trucks off the road. The EPA estimates that for every ton-mile, a typical truck shipment emits roughly three times more nitrogen oxide and particulates than a freight train.
By shifting 25 percent of freight from trucks to trains by 2025, air pollutant emissions in the Buffalo area could decrease by as much as 6,152 tons. Trains are remarkably fuel efficient -- on just one gallon of fuel, one train can move one ton of freight 423 miles.
But the benefits don't stop there. In the Buffalo area alone, shifting 25 percent of freight from trucks to trains by 2025 would mean 30 fewer hours in commuting time every year. It would also have a positive impact on commuters' pocketbooks. For example, by 2025, each commuter in the Buffalo area could save 68 gallons of fuel annually with a 25 percent shift. With average fuel prices today at more than $3 per gallon, the savings would be significant -- an average of $656 in congestion costs per Buffalo commuter every year.
However, to carry more freight, the rail industry will need more capacity. Concerned members of Congress have introduced the Freight Rail Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Act to stimulate infrastructure investment. The proposed legislation would provide transportation companies with a 25 percent tax credit for their investments and would make it possible for freight railroads to handle a larger market share of freight transport while continuing to provide on-time, quality service to shippers.
We must act now. Freight rail is one prescription to help America handle the impending surge in freight volume.
Wendell Cox has studied traffic and gridlock for more than 25 years. He is president and CEO of Demographia, a market research and urban policy consultancy.