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APHA Tallies ‘Hidden Health Costs’ of Transportation Status Quo

The nation's transportation planning process fails to account for
than $200 billion per year in "hidden health costs" imposed by traffic
and air
pollution, according to a new report from the American Public Health
Association (APHA) that maps the nexus between infrastructure and
health care.

08congestion_600.jpgTraffic brings with it billions of
dollars in "hidden health costs," according to the APTA. (Photo: NYT)

APHA's report (available for download here) echoes
many of the policy recommendations issued
by the
Centers for Disease Control last month: stronger incentives
to expand bicycle and pedestrian networks, as well as more frequent
measurement of the health impacts of new transport projects.

But the APHA, a trade association representing public health
workers, went further than the government by adding up the estimated
costs imposed by the absence of any mandatory evaluation of the health
consequences of transportation decisions.

Citing U.S. DOT and American Automobile Association studies,
respectively, the APHA pegged the annual price of congested roads at
between $50 billion and $80 billion, with the health toll of traffic
crashes -- including the treatment of fatalities, the resulting court
costs, and lost wages -- reaching $180 billion per year.

The majority of those bills are paid indirectly by the
transportation system users they affect, not factored in advance into
local planning, as the APHA writes:

The federal government does not require a consistentmethodology for environmental impact analysis, transportation modeling,or cost-benefit analysis for agencies seeking federal highway funding —and while this approach allows agencies to tailor analyses to fit theirneeds, itmakes it impossible to compare potential project effectivenessat a national level. It also  means that health impacts, costs andbenefits are often left off the table when projects are beingconsidered.

What can be done to build those health risks into the calculus that
determines where roads get built, bridges fixed, and crosswalks
painted? The APHA offers San Francisco, where health officials used
economic modeling to weigh the likely pedestrian injury rates caused by
five alternative development plans, as an example of effective local
analysis of transportation's effect on public health.

But the APHA report underscores the difficulty of achieving a
broader shift without Congress requiring a stronger emphasis on
transport policies that tangibly improve Americans' health. In addition
to endorsing the concept of national transportation objectives -- which has
won some
Democratic support but sparked
from state DOTs -- the group's new report urges that
those new federal standards "allocate more funds to projects and efforts
that support healthy communities and active transportation."

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