Highway Congestion Is Costing Us More Than Just Time

We live in a country of cars. From the workplace to the grocery store to our kids' soccer games, we drive. And much of that time is spent with one person in one car -- a single occupancy vehicle.
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We live in a country of cars. From the workplace to the grocery store to our kids' soccer games, we drive. And much of that time is spent with one person in one car -- a single occupancy vehicle.

We often rationalize this behavior by telling our friends and family that there are no better options close to our homes or that it's actually cheaper for us to drive than take the bus or train, but are we really considering all of our options? Do we fully understand the nature of our choices?

In full disclosure, I am a veteran. I attended West Point, I studied at Harvard's Kennedy School, and I worked at the tactical level of the United Stated Army. When I prepared to go overseas to Baghdad in 2004, I thought I was mentally and physically prepared, but nothing prepared me for what I experienced.

American service members were spending a large part of their energies and resources coordinating for the protection of Iraqi oil fields, refineries, depots, and pipelines. They were escorting fuel conveys through some of the most hostile territory in the country, in what came to be known as one of the most dangerous assignments of the war, full of roadside IEDs. Furthermore, back in the States, I saw millions of dollars worth of fuel being wasted by inefficient generators and vehicles -- the very fuel we were there to protect. Our brothers and sisters in arms were paying for that oil with their blood and lives.

Furthermore, back home, we idled away 2.9 billion gallons of fuel with traffic congestion alone in 2011, largely because the highway infrastructure in so many of our cities and major transportation corridors is failing, and can't handle the capacity resulting from so many single occupancy vehicles.

It didn't take very long to connect the dots. Americans do not understand the "fully burdened cost of transportation." There are few tools that help them find their way through a maze of uncoordinated transportation options that vary from city to city.

The Fully Burdened Cost of Transportation

Opinion polls often show that Americans want safer, more efficient and reliable highways, but they aren't so keen to pay for them. There are no free roads, and, when we put off paying for highway maintenance and repair, the cost comes back to drivers in other ways.

  • Congested highways waste our time and make it impossible to predict our travel time to work, home, or our child's soccer game or day care. When we cannot plan our schedules, we waste time, let down loved ones, and increase stress levels.
  • The added cost of goods that take longer to ship when freight corridors slow down, or when weight restrictions are applied to outdated or structurally deficient bridges. These costs are passed right on to the consumer -- you.
  • Safety problems on roads cause preventable injuries and deaths. When they are not maintained, we all suffer.

The waste on our highways is a quality of life issue for every American commuter. And when we had boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a life and death issue for many American service members.

What We Can Do

I started RideScout to get our roadways moving again, while giving a big boost to our energy independence and national security. There are two things American drivers can do to help:

  • Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Over the last year, I've spoken to so many people who I made feel uneasy about driving in their cars by themselves for the last 30 years. They lived in suburbs with few reliable commuting options, and they had to get to work. But that experience makes them the best messengers for a more integrated approach to transportation. With a discovery tool like RideScout, anyone can choose from a wider range of options and become a powerful role model for friends, family, and neighbors.
  • Treat road pricing as a signal, not a burden. No one likes being charged to use a highway. But when you pay a fee to go through an all-electronic toll system at highway speed, you're receiving valuable data: The price you pay gives you an accurate picture of what it costs to build and maintain a modern, efficient road. "A toll is a user fee, not a tax," notes the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, creating "a clear and direct link between use of the facility and payment for that use."

That link between cost and benefit matters, whether our goal is to keep our highways safe, get to work on time, or reduce our country's dependence on oil from people that don't like us very much. We have the power to change the system.

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