Harvard Center for Risk Analysis examines the public health costs of congestion
A Health Risk Assessment conducted by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis challenges the tendency for analysts and policymakers to focus only on excess fuel consumption and wasted time when evaluating the costs of traffic congestion by providing evidence that public health costs should be considered as well. This study was undertaken to determine the proper place of public health considerations in future assessments, and to improve current estimates of the social costs of congestion in the United States. Congestion is associated with increased tailpipe emissions and thus increased levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxides. This study focuses on the cost of premature mortality due to exposure to these pollutants, which have been demonstrated to have a strong relationship with fatal cardiovascular events.
Researchers studied 83 urban areas in the United States, and developed models used to predict conditions out to 2030. While these models assumed no drastic changes in infrastructure, they did assume an increase in the use and functioning of low-emission vehicles, which would lead to a decrease in total pollutants emitted. The findings of this study demonstrate that the public health costs of congestion are important, and should be considered in the future. In 2005, it was estimated that pollutants emitted during time spent in traffic were associated with approximately 3,000 premature deaths. There are areas, such as San Diego, CA, and Raleigh, NC, in which the public health costs due to congestion are expected to increase, rather than decrease, over the next twenty years. Moreover, this study considered only costs due to mortality not those associated with chronic illnesses that can be exacerbated by traffic emissions, such as asthma and chronic lower respiratory disease. The researchers recommend that public health costs be considered in all future estimates of the social cost of congestion.
—reported by the American Public Health Association