Roads, not telecommuting, will relieve Twin Cities congestion
Yesterday, streets.mn ran an article responding to our new report “Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident”. They suggested that we weren’t serious about our recommendation of expanding road capacity because we would not support the taxes needed to pay for it. streets.mn also said that telecommuting – working from home – was an alternative. They asked us to respond and my reply is posted below.
My name is John Phelan and I am an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. I read your interesting item about our recent report on traffic congestion in the Twin Cities. You said you’d like to hear our thoughts, so here I am.
First, I would note that we have the interests of Minnesotans at heart no less than you.
Second, in the report we do propose a way by which road users pay for extra roads; road pricing. We think this would be a better method than a gas tax increase because it charges for use of the road and not the use of gas and it road use not gas use which we are concerned with here. And, to the extent that drivers are taxpayers, this amounts to asking taxpayers to pay for it.
Third, we support telecommuting. As you say, it lessens the amount of cars on the road and reduces congestion. It also, as you say, spreads people around which means less upward pressure on house prices in certain areas (a major problem in my home town, London).
Fourth, while supporting telecommuting, sadly, for reasons of economic geography we don’t see it making more than a marginal contribution to reducing congestion at present. The death of cities or the death of the office have been predicted for almost as long as there have been cities or offices. Yet they persist. Economic geography suggests that they do so because there is a real value to people being close to other people professionally. The spillovers at the heart of new/endogenous economic growth theory are probably the best example. I think, at present, this value is too great to be matched by telecommuting.
Anyway, I enjoyed reading your article.