ERTC - Environmentally Responsible Transportation Center for Communities of Concern Environmentally Responsible
Transportation Center for
Communities of Concern

Research Project:
Traffic Congestion and Asthma-related Hospital Visits in Central TX

University: Texas State University

Principal Investigator(s): Tiankai Wang

Project Description:

As one of the most common health diseases that are susceptible to environmental changes in urban neighborhoods, asthma is a major health concern among the disadvantaged populations living in urban neighborhoods with a higher proportion of poverty and racial/ethnic minorities (Corburn et al. 2006). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 5.1 million U.S. children had asthma in 2019.

Notably, air pollution has been a growing concern in environmental health, being considered to trigger new asthma symptoms and exacerbate existing asthma symptoms, and plenty of studies provide evidence for the association between air pollution and respiratory diseases (English et al. 1999; Janssen et al. 2003; McConnell et al. 2006; McCreanor et al. 2007; Guarnieri and Balmes 2014). Traffic congestion increases vehicle emissions and degrades ambient air quality (Zhang and Batterman 2013). However, our understanding of the association between traffic congestion and asthma is very limited. Thus, our research question is whether traffic congestion is a determinant of asthma-related hospital visits.

Figure 1: Traffic congestion on asthma outcomes

US DOT Priorities:

Environmental preservation is supported by addressing the impact of traffic congestion on air quality, a key concern for both health and the environment. By investigating the link between traffic congestion and asthma-related hospital visits, the project explores how transportation-related factors can affect respiratory health. This research delves into a relatively unexplored area, expanding our understanding of the relationship between traffic congestion and asthma, which can inform policies to reduce emissions and improve air quality. Ultimately, the project aligns with the DOT's goals by highlighting the environmental consequences of traffic congestion and advancing knowledge in a critical area of public health and transportation research.


This study will focus on Austin, Travis County, Texas, whose traffic is rated among the worst in the U.S., on a par with New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In fact, Austin is one of the worst cities for traffic in the western hemisphere (Theis 2013). Furthermore, kids living in Travis County are hospitalized for asthma at a significantly higher rate than U.S. children overall, with the highest rates of emergency room visits and hospitalizations across the county occurring in eastern Travis County (Zárate, Zigler, Cubbin, and Matsui 2019).


We expect that there is a statistically significant correlation between higher levels of traffic congestion and an increase in asthma-related hospital visits. The research's findings may carry several important implications:

  • Healthcare Planning: The study highlights the need for healthcare facilities and local health authorities to be prepared for potential spikes in asthma-related hospital visits during periods of high traffic congestion. This information can help allocate resources more effectively and ensure that medical services are adequately available when needed.
  • Traffic Management: Urban planners and transportation authorities can use this research to better understand the impact of traffic congestion on public health. By implementing effective traffic management strategies, such as improving public transportation, optimizing traffic flow, and encouraging alternate modes of transportation, they can mitigate the negative health consequences associated with air pollution and traffic congestion.
  • Public Awareness: The research underscores the importance of public awareness campaigns about the health risks of exposure to traffic-related air pollutants, especially for individuals with asthma or other respiratory conditions. Informing the public about the potential exacerbation of their symptoms during periods of high traffic congestion can empower them to take necessary precautions.
  • Policy Changes: Local policymakers can use the research findings to advocate for policy changes that prioritize environmental health. This might involve implementing stricter emissions standards for vehicles, establishing "clean air" zones, and investing in green infrastructure to improve air quality and reduce congestion-related health risks.

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