Now that the Washington region officially tied Chicago for first place on the Texas Transportation Institute's list of worst traffic congestion in the nation, perhaps local officials will finally admit that their social engineering disguised as transportation planning has only made a bad situation worse. There's no other explanation for such obtuse, self-defeating behavior as: >> Blocking additional lanes on Interstate 66 within the Beltway and filing a lawsuit to stop capacity-stretching high-occupancy toll lanes on I-395 (Arlington);

>> With five years' notice, failing to adequately prepare for the relocation of thousands of defense workers this September as a result of the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure Commission (Montgomery County and Alexandria);

>> Spending more than $6 billion on a Metrorail extension that the Federal Transit Administration concedes will attract only 10,000 new riders (Fairfax County and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority);

>> Voting for "emergency" legislation that ignores a 120-year-old federal ban on overhead power lines to make way for a $1.5 billion traffic-blocking streetcar network the city cannot afford (District of Columbia); and

>> Refusing to consider a "Techway" over the Potomac River that would keep interstate traffic off the highly congested Capital Beltway (Virginia and Maryland).

All of these decisions have had real-world consequences. The average Washingtonian now wastes 70 hours and 57 gallons of gas per year sitting in traffic jams, according to TTI's 2010 Urban Mobility Report. In dollars and cents, this translates to a $1,555 congestion surtax for every local commuter, almost double the national average of $808.

TTI recommends a "balanced and diversified approach to reducing traffic congestion -- one that focuses on more of everything" -- including increasing existing highway capacity and building more roads. However, more than half of the region's transportation spending over the next two decades will be on mass transit, even though Census Bureau data shows that transit's share of commuter trips increased just one-tenth of a percent between 2008 and Metro's opening in 1976.

The Washington region already has the sixth largest public transportation system in the country, but is ranked 16th in freeway miles, largely because of thousands of new lane miles and seven Potomac River bridges that were deliberately erased off planning maps since the 1960s. Which is why peak traffic congestion has increased from 36 percent in 1982 to 78 percent in 2009, and why we're likely to stay No. 1 in traffic congestion for some time to come.