NATIONWIDE, suburbanites complain about one byproduct of excess development far more than any other: traffic congestion. The news from the General Accounting Office (GAO) is that things might get much worse. In a recent report to Congress, the GAO said that ``some watchful observers believe that traffic congestion could become the nation's No. 1 transportation problem and could remain so into the 21st century unless effective action is taken.''
While noting the difficulties inherent in making accurate long-range traffic forecasts, the report cited a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) staff study which estimated, ``if no improvements are made to highway capacity by 2005, vehicle delay will increase about 436 percent over the 1985 level, or 8.8 percent a year.''
Again citing Highway Administration data, the report indicates there has been a large rise in the amount of congestion on rural highways. ``Between 1983 and 1985, freeway delay from congestion grew by approximately 39.5 percent in central cities, compared with 66.4 percent in outlying areas, and 90.9 percent in rural areas.''
And that trend is not likely to be reversed. ``FHWA staff believe that in the next 20 years, a much larger increase in freeway congestion will continue to occur in suburban and rural areas than in central city areas,'' the report states.