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Report Tallies Costs of Road Congestion -- and Political Gridlock

Drivers in smaller cities had their share of delays as well. Those taking the roadways to work in Columbia, S.C., gave up 30 hours in 2011 and $663 in congestion costs, TTI said, while Provo, Utah, commuters sat for 25 hours and lost $514 in wasted time and fuel.

There are small signs the policy gridlock could be changing. In negotiations ahead of the New Year’s Day fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama initially said any big year-end budget deal should include new money for transportation projects. While the president backed off that goal as the deadline neared, he continued to mention road and bridge needs so much that some observers expect him to propose new infrastructure measures soon.

Senators from both parties also briefly discussed ways to boost the Highway Trust Fund during last year’s lame duck session before dropping that idea from cliff negotiations. Still, new House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are among those exploring ways to increase infrastructure spending. Some other lawmakers back new bonding ideas that could leverage federal dollars to woo more state and private project funding.

Nearby, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is pushing a transportation plan through his legislature that would replace the state’s gasoline tax with an incremental hike in sales taxes. That would build in a type of inflation adjustment that could increase revenue as the tax base values rise, unlike the traditional per-gallon fixed fee that is tied just to fuel volume.

McDonnell, a Republican, is running into resistance for other proposals to impose tolls on part of Interstate 95 in southern Virginia or levy a yearly fee on owners of alternative-fuel cars. But his overall plan could raise or shift large sums into road, transit and intercity rail projects that include some work near Washington — and suggest new options for other states as well as lawmakers in Congress.

In Maryland, authorities said they will raise the speed limit starting March 31 from 55 to 60 mph on a fairly new east-west toll road, the 18-mile Intercounty Connector that links I-370 to I-95.

Its opening in November 2011 offered drivers a four-lane route across an increasingly crowded central part of the state without having to drop down into the Capital Beltway’s congested lanes, and boosting its speed could help attract customers.

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