Central Florida may be home to the happiest place on earth, but for those who've sat in traffic on Interstate 4, it can also be one of the most miserable places to drive.
According to the latest national study by the Texas Transportation Institute, the typical Orlando commuter spends 53 hours a year — more than a typical work week — stuck in traffic, ranking it sixth among U.S. cities. Each driver wastes an average 35 gallons of fuel each year — ninth worst in the nation. Collectively, Orlandoarea traffic congestion costs $850 million a year in wasted gas and lost productivity.
The region's competitiveness and long-term economic growth depend on our strengthening the local infrastructure and seeking innovative solutions to our mobility challenges. If we don't, people and businesses may decide to locate elsewhere, taking jobs, talent and tax dollars with them.
Fortunately, state, county and city officials are addressing this concern.
Florida has applied for a piece of the Obama administration's $8 billion in high-speed-rail funding for a proposed line connecting Orlando to Tampa. Federal officials say Florida's chances of receiving grants rely on broad support for public transit — and approval of the SunRail commuter system.
Public rail systems would not only help alleviate congestion on I-4, but would spur economic development along the corridor, creating jobs and reducing harmful emissions along the way.
Of course, with the causes of our traffic woes too numerous to count, there's no one-way bullet train to a city free of congestion. Rail, alone, won't solve the problem. And since building endless miles of new highways isn't an option, it is increasingly important that we use existing roads more intelligently.
The Orlando City Council has approved using $3.8 million in stimulus funding to create an Intelligent Transportation System that connects downtown's transportation and communications systems to provide real-time information on parking and road conditions.
Let's not stop there. Cameras used to monitor traffic flows downtown, on I-4 and State Road 408 could serve as the foundation of a system with true predictive capabilities, enabling authorities to notify drivers in advance of future jams.
Such systems are already being used around the world with great success. Officials in Singapore, for example, are running roadway data through sophisticated analytical software to predict traffic flows with up to 85 percent accuracy.
If we commit to more innovative transportation solutions, we, too, can create a safer, cleaner and more livable environment that supports future growth. We might even learn to tackle the daily commute with a smile.
Rick R. Qualman of Boca Raton is IBM senior state executive for the state of Florida. He is speaking this week at the Florida Chamber's Future of Florida Forum.
By Rick R. Qualman