Monday, May 09, 2005

Traffic-Congestion Hysteria

The construction and maintenance of streets and highways -- a government-dominated enterprise -- is experiencing "government failure":
Congestion delayed travelers 79 million more hours and wasted 69 million more gallons of fuel in 2003 than in 2002, the Texas Transportation Institute's 2005 Urban Mobility Report found....

"Urban areas are not adding enough capacity, improving operations or managing demand well enough to keep congestion from growing," the report concluded....

The report was released Monday, the same day the Senate resumes debate on a bill that would spend $284 billion on highways over the next six years.

But that's not enough money to solve traffic problems, according to highway and transit advocates.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimated it would take as much as $400 billion in federal spending over the next six years to solve traffic problems, based on a 2002 study.

Roads aren't being built fast enough to carry all the people who now drive on them, according to the Transportation Development Foundation, a group that advocates transportation construction.

Well, of course a group that advocates transportation construction would say that roads aren't being built fast enough. The Transportation Development Foundation, as you might have suspected, is an arm of an industry lobbying group, specifically the American Road & Transporation Builders' Association, which bills itself as "the U.S. transportation construction industry's representative in Washington, D.C." Its mission: "advocating strong federal investment in the nation's transportation infrastructure to meet public demand for a safe and efficient business transportation network." Enuff said.

Anyway, the likely outcome of a study sponsored by highway builders is the pouring of more tax dollars into the soil of America, in a futile effort to reduce traffic congestion.

That's a bad and unnecessarily costly solution to a so-called problem. Why? Because there is no problem. If people are willing to endure long commutes in snarled traffic, they're revealing a preference for that activity over other uses of their time. In short, it's worth it to them; otherwise, they wouldn't be doing it.

Instead of paving America -- at vast expense -- we should simply let the market solve the problem. When commuters have truly had enough they will turn to alternatives that will arise to meet the demand. Those alternatives -- if government will stay out of the way -- will be offered by private transportation companies, automobile manufacturers, employers (who may finally get serious about telecommuting, for example), and workers (some of whom will opt for simpler lives or forms of employment that don't require commuting).