Summer is half over which means that many people have taken their traditional driving vacation, and likely encountered oppressive traffic. But even for those whose road trips have just been to the local supermarket this summer, odds are excellent that drivers have encountered mind-boggling, frustrating traffic jams.
Road construction, off-ramp closures and more drivers on the roads have slowed traffic to the point where the prudent motorist adds a 50 percent variable to his travel time – the trip that used to take 30 minutes may now takes at least 45 minutes, and maybe even an hour, and that doesn’t include driving in circles looking for parking.
Sometimes there flat out just isn’t any parking. At Yosemite National Park, tourists pay a $30 entrance fee, then endure traffic jams, honking horns, delays of up to three hours as they search, often in vain, for a parking space – hardly the vacation they had in mind. Park officials report that road rage and accidents at Yosemite are up.
In Colorado, traffic congestion has driven residents out of the state to which they moved seeking a more tranquil way of life. On their way out of the state, Coloradoans bemoan how overpopulation has wrecked the Rocky Mountain vista, destroyed the once pristine rivers and plowed under productive farmland.
And in middle Tennessee, as 30,000 new residents move into the area each year, the traffic is described as nightmarish, and the cause of a sharp increase in automobile accidents during the last five years. Nashville along with other urban sprawl-effected metropolises like Oklahoma City; Birmingham, Ala.; Richmond, Va., and Raleigh, N.C. are, to the surprise of many, among the most congested, while San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta are further down the list.
Local legislators in Tennessee have embarked on a costly but Pollyannaish $8.6 billion, 25-year plan that they hope will alleviate congestion. However, the harsh reality is that no transportation plan can successfully accommodate perpetual growth. The same failure in logic applies nationwide and is reflected in federal immigration policy. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, during 2014 and 2015, 3.1 million legal and illegal immigrants settled in the United States, a 39 percent increase over the two prior years.
Immigration is – and has been for years – an explosive, toxic domestic political hot potato. But it’s indisputable that immigration is the major population growth accelerant. Immigration, births to immigrants and lawful permanent residents that petition for their family to join them will push the U.S. population from 328 million today to an estimated 438 million by 2050.
Those millions of new arrivals will need transportation. In its research report on traffic, the Brookings Institute wrote that America’s vehicle population has been increasing even faster than its human population. From 1980 to 2000, 1.2 more automotive vehicles were added to the vehicle population of the U.S. for every 1 person added to the human population. Brookings concluded that because of increases in cars and the number of drivers, “prospects for reducing peak-hour traffic congestion in the future are dim indeed.”
Disappointingly, Brookings didn’t mention the immigration variable. Immigration levels aren’t set in stone, and Congress can and should adjust them to minimize even more overcrowding. Although immigration at its existing rate is diminishing the qualify of life for most average Americans, lowering the total number of immigrants has been a non-starter in Congress to date.