A report says government is to blame for bad traffic, but is it that simple?

Report says building more lanes will make traffic better.
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Traffic can really suck in the Twin Cities, and a new report says the government is to blame.

The 24-page report from the Minnesota-based conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment says traffic isn't inevitable. And the state agencies in charge of the transit system are making it worse.

The report says that instead of spending money to reduce congestion – like building more lanes of traffic – the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Transportation are using a large chunk of money on public transportation, bike paths and pedestrian safety improvements.

The think tank argues these things can actually make traffic worse. Plus, they benefit fewer people than if more money was spent on fixing traffic problems, the report says.

Has traffic gotten worse?

Yes, it has. Both the Center of the American Experiment's report and the most recent Minnesota Department of Transportation congestion report can agree on that.

MnDOT's 2015 congestion report found freeways were clogged 23.4 percent of the time during rush hours (the highest since MnDOT started collecting this data in 1993), and that traffic will only get worse as the population in the Twin Cities grows.

Meanwhile, the Center of the American Experiment's report estimates traffic costs the metro area nearly $4 billion a year in wasted time and increased business costs, noting the Twin Cities is the 17th most congested urban area – up from 35th in 1982.

How do you fix it?

This is where the think tank and state agencies disagree.

The think tank says adding more lanes of traffic will help reduce congestion. That message is the focus of the Center of the American Experiment's summer-long public awareness campaign, which aims to inform people about what is causing traffic in the Twin Cities and how it can be fixed.

But the state agencies argue it's a bit more complicated than just adding more lanes.

Kate Brickman, of the Metropolitan Council, told GoMN in a statement the report "seems to draw many conclusions that are not consistent with the broader body of academic work on transportation planning and transit." Like this report by Wired.com, which says adding more lanes can actually make traffic worse. (This isn't true in everywhere, though.)

Instead, the Metropolitan Council focuses on multi-modal investments, which give people multiple options to get around, like driving, walking, biking and public transit. And Nick Thompson of the Met Council told KSTP investing in that has "really paid off."

Especially with public transportation, which has helped keep congestion levels pretty flat, Brickman told GoMN – even though the number of daily commuters had gone up by 40 percent over the past decade.

Last year alone, transit riders took nearly 100 million rides – 80 percent of those were during peak periods, like rush hour, Brickman said, adding: "Without transit, many of these riders would be forced onto our roads."

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