Friday Fact Check: The “Gridlock & Carpocalypse” Myth

Setting the Record Straight on OKI’s Traffic Projections

The pro-toll coalition was it again this week, promoting an old fear-provoking video narrated by OKI’s Mark Policinski in which he calls the Brent Spence Bridge “terrifyingly unsafe” and warns us of “complete gridlock” in a region that will “choke on its own congestion” if we don’t build the bridge now.

It’s compelling stuff, but is it accurate?

OKI’s ominous predictions have a long history. In 2008, OKI published a study (the I-471 Corridor Study[1]) that projected 2015 traffic on the bridge crossings between Kentucky and Ohio. As 2015 approaches, it’s possible to look at the actual numbers and evaluate the accuracy of OKI’s projections.

What we found is astonishing: the traffic projections were wildly inaccurate.

The Brent Spence Bridge was projected to see a 17% increase in traffic between 2005 and 2015. In 2005, an average of 165,469 vehicles crossed the Brent Spence Bridge daily.[2] By 2013 – the most recent public data – average weekday traffic across the bridge had declined to 161,036.[3] Rather than a 17% increase, we saw a 3% decrease.

 

The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge was projected to see a 30% increase in traffic between 2005 and 2015. In 2005, an average of 102,000 vehicles crossed the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge daily.[4] By 2012 – the most recent public data – average weekday traffic had declined to 91,715.[5] Rather than a 30% increase, we saw a 10% decrease.

 

As the data from OKI shows, it is difficult to accurately project traffic patterns. The Indiana Toll Road bankruptcy demonstrates that even professionals with billions of dollars at stake make egregious forecasting errors.

 

This uncertainty is now widely understood outside of OKI, raising fundamental questions about the desirability of privately financed infrastructure -- both increasing financing costs and unbalancing public-private contractual arrangements.

 

Given the inaccuracy of OKI’s traffic projections, can we trust their analysis? Their claims of future gridlock and congestion appear to be more propaganda than well-grounded policy analysis.



[2] OKI Traffic Counts, available at http://traffic.oki.org/ (the Brent Spence Bridge is OKI ID KEN0255; as of 12/19/2014, the most recent count data was from 2005)

[3] This is average weekday traffic, as collected by OKI from April 19, 2013 through May 19, 2013. Weekend traffic during the same time period averaged 130,908. See Christopher Bolling & Derrick Jenniges, The Replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge: Tolls, Commuting Patterns and Economic Activity in Northern Kentucky, January 27, 2014, page 13, available at http://www.nkychamber.com/News/UK Study_Final.pdf

[4] 1-471 Study, Exhibit 8 (page 32).

[5] OKI Traffic Counts, available at http://traffic.oki.org/ (the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge is OKI ID CAM0200; as of 12/19/2014, the most recent count data was from 2012)


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