National Review column touts prospects for bipartisan support of traffic congestion relief

Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute writes in the latest print version of National Review that politicians of all stripes could help boost economic growth by tackling traffic congestion.

Perhaps the biggest juicy piece of low-hanging fruit is something many NR readers experience every day: traffic congestion. Congestion in the U.S. today is a larger drag on growth than almost anything else, and better traffic and planning policies in many urban areas could go a long way to improving the economy.

As the nearby chart shows, traffic congestion in the U.S. has grown worse and worse over the past three decades, as the population has grown, people have moved to cities, and the number of miles driven by Americans each year has increased. The chart displays the total hours and total gallons of gasoline wasted due to congestion each year. These totals were calculated by measuring the difference between a free-flowing trip and the actual speeds that commuters experience and tallying these differences up over each year. Although the general upward trend dipped marginally in the years following the recent recession (the jobless don’t commute), it is clear that the amount of time and gasoline wasted due to congestion has grown to an astonishingly high level. All of this congestion also means added emissions from cars that sit in traffic.

As congestion has grown worse, so has its estimated cost each year, represented in the chart in millions of dollars. In 2011, the total estimated cost of congestion in the U.S. topped $120 billion. Think of that as an annual tax on Americans that could be eliminated with better road management and the scale of the policy opportunity becomes readily apparent. …

… There is plenty of policy Sudafed for this problem. We could build more roads, increase tolls during rush hour, add more fast-passes to avoid tollbooth traffic, and improve public transportation. While members of the different political parties might favor different combinations, the key point is that pricing road use could help solve the problem, and provide a double dividend as revenues are used in other ways.

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