By John Schaffner

Drivers in metro Atlanta spent 135.3 million hours in traffic delays in 2007, the sixth-worst rate in the nation, according to a recently released study of urban traffic congestion from the Texas Transportation Institute, a unit of theTexas A&M University system.

According to the report, using the most recent data available, metro Atlanta drivers also used 95.9 million more gallons of fuel in 2007 than they would have if it were not for traffic delays. That’s also the sixth-worst rate in the nation.

Overall, traffic congestion in metro Atlanta cost an estimated $3 billion in 2007, the fourth-most in the nation, the study estimates.

Transportation, rather than air quality, was the focus of discussion recently when Kevin Green, who is head of the Clean Air Campaign in Georgia, is a tree climber and was born on Earth Day, spoke at the Buckhead Business Association’s (BBA) weekly Thursday meeting at the City Club of Buckhead.

Green did have to address some of what he called “the amazing change of events in terms of air quality” and what commuters and employers can do to reduce their exposure and their contribution to the problem.

It was less than 40 years ago when the first major air-quality legislation hit nationwide, Green explained. “Look at what has happened in the last four years … in the last four months in terms of air quality and the way the feds are looking at it,” he said. “Look at the regional, national and global dialogue we are having on greenhouse gases.”

Congress is looking at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent by 2015 and 80 percent by 2050.

The Obama administration is talking of increasing auto fuel efficiencies from 25 to 35 miles per gallon by 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently declared greenhouse emissions a threat to public health, which is the first step toward regulating them.

“But it is clearly becoming evident to a lot of people that you are not going to solve air quality with regulation,” Green said. “The regulators are quickly approaching a point where they are out of bullets.”

More than half the emissions are coming from the tailpipes of cars and trucks, he said. “While they are getting a lot cleaner, there are a lot more of them. Metro Atlanta has grown by about a million people since 2000 and is projected to grow another 2½ million in the next 25 years.”

He said some significant challenges are ahead in Atlanta.

“We have among the longest, most punishing commutes. The average round trip is almost 40 miles,” Green said. “It is largely a function of the city growing and growing out. Vehicle miles traveled are growing at a greater rate than the population. There are a lot more cars in the driveway than there are registered drivers.” He added, “Growth really provides the opportunity to do things differently.”

Georgia is the fourth-fastest-growing state and fourth-worst in terms of per capita transportation investment. Green said 85 percent of the people hit the streets driving alone, which is higher than many other metro areas.

“Experts will tell us that in the next 25 years we should spend $65 billion on transportation,” he said. “If we spend every penny of that investment, congestion is going to be 50 percent worse than it is today. We are not going to solve congestion.”

He suggested more transit, flex work schedules, teleworking, carpooling and compressed workweeks will help. “Making better use of present infrastructure opportunities can be 100 times more effective than adding roads.”

He also suggested implementation of “no idle zones.” Green said, “If you are going to idle for 30 seconds, it costs less to turn off the engine and restart.”