If you’ve ever sat in traffic on the Broken Arrow Expressway from Tulsa toward Broken Arrow, or on Broadway Extension from Oklahoma City toward Edmond, you know that commuting congestion can cost you a lot of time. But you may be surprised to learn how much money it actually costs all of us across this country.
Commuting costs money, and lots of it. The results are in, and it costs America an extra $121 billion. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute released its 2012 Annual Urban Mobility Report recently, indicating that Americans spent an additional 5.5 billion additional hours sitting in traffic.
Generally, the study compares what it would otherwise cost to travel without commuter congestion to what it actually costs. The study basically looks at two measurable indexes: the travel time index, and the planning time index. The first measures congestion, focusing on each trip and each mile of travel. According to the research, it is calculated as the ratio of travel time in the peak period to travel time in free flow. The second, the planning time index, is a reliability measure that represent the total travel time that should be planned for a trip. Those two measures, along with other measurable data, lead to what is basically the cost of congestion. In other words, the study places a value on the extra travel time and the extra fuel consumed by vehicles traveling at slower speeds based on the data collected. Put another way, it is expensive.
While Oklahoma City and Tulsa are not nearly as bad as some other major metropolitan areas, there is still a significant cost. In Oklahoma City, the report demonstrates that on average in 2011, we spent an additional 18 gallons of fuel. The real kicker is that we spent an additional 38 hours delayed in traffic. Time is money? Plus, as a result of commuting, we emitted an extra 362 pounds of CO2. The result is an extra $803 a year on average per person. In the aggregate, that’s an extra $543 million. In Tulsa, the report indicates an extra 15 gallons of fuel, with a total of 32 hours delayed per person. Extra emissions are 298 pounds of CO2. The cost is an extra $668 per person over the study year, totaling up to $331 million in the aggregate.
What the study doesn’t measure is the loss in productivity to our businesses and to our overall economy both locally, and across the nation. It also sheds light on what an investment in a revitalized infrastructure can mean both for our economy and our environment. Placing a real number on the extra consumption of energy and time reveals that the status quo is really, really costly. Perhaps it’s time that surface and mass transportation projects also include a premium or a discount based upon what their practicality truly costs all of us.