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Bad Traffic Cost America $121 Billion in 2011

In 2011, traffic congestion cost the US $121 billion in lost time and wasted fuel. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of that congestion occurs during rush hour. Some back-of-the-envelope math tells us that bad traffic in our daily commutes costed the US economy approximately $76 billion in 2011. This is all according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Annual Mobility Report:

Congestion, by every measure, has increased substantially over the 30 years covered in this report. And congestion is “recovering” from the improvements seen during the economic recession; many regions have seen congestion get worse as the economy gets better. As in past regional recessions (see California’s dot com bubble in the early 2000s) when the economy recovers, so does traffic congestion and when unemployment lines shrank, lines of bumper-to-bumper traffic grew. […]

Congestion affects people who travel during the peak period. The average commuter…[s]pent an extra 38 hours traveling in 2011, up from 16 hours in 1982…[and w]asted 19 gallons of fuel in 2011—a week’s worth of fuel for the average U.S. driver—up from 8 gallons in 1982.

Your commute takes a toll on your mental health, it hurts the environment, and it carries both a real cost (in gasoline) and an opportunity cost (in wasted time). And as the report mentions, these costs will continue to grow as the economy picks up speed.

But does that make sense? The US is pioneering a transition to an information-based economy less reliant on the production of material things. Why then do we waste so much time and money commuting to a physical office? Telework is an attractive alternative. We’ve sung its praises before: it can make workers more productive, save companies money on office real estate, help employees strike a healthier work-life balance, and cut down on their dreaded commutes.

A post-industrial economy both requires and deserves a post-industrial work scheme.

[Traffic image courtesy of Hung Chung Chih/]

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  • Luke Lea

    We could also plan more exurban developments in the form of small satellite towns whose residents would live closer to the places where they work and shop. This would cover more people potentially, I think, than your favorite solution, which I also would favor.

    See here for one version of what it might look like:

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