Carmageddon and the Future of U.S. Transportation

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Carmageddon and the Future of U.S. Transportation

We have seen very few high-ROI, "shovel ready" transportation projects emerge over the past five years, despite constantly hearing about a traffic crisis created by our obsolete infrastructure.

Labor unions, many politicians, and armies of transportation consultants claim that "transportation infrastructure investments" are just what our economy and society need to ensure rising competitiveness in the 21st century. These transportation boosters argue that without new highways, high-speed rail, and bigger airports, our economy will atrophy and our quality of life will suffer.

But, is that really the case?

According to transportation expert David Levinson of the University of Minnesota, "By the year 2030, most Americans may only head into the office a few days a week, lots of urban skyscrapers will have been converted into apartments, suburban land prices will have declined, and we'll be 'driving'—or at least sitting in cars—way less." The bottom line? Say "Goodbye to traffic congestion."1

In fact, national statistics show that per capita travel in vehicles peaked in June 2005, and as of July 2014 had declined back to where it was roughly 20 years ago. This represents a dramatic reversal of the 90-year increase in the amount of automobile traffic.

However, because of that 90-year history, there's a deep-seated expectation that traffic will continue to increase because it has increased in the past. It's built into the way people view the world. But beginning in the early 2000s, with things like increased gas prices, changing demographics, and changing employment, the amount of travel that people engage in has declined on a per capita basis.

Several factors promise to extend and accelerate this shift toward less traffic and, consequently, less need for enormous investments in transportation infrastructure.

Given this trend, we offer the following forecasts for your consideration:

First, by 2030, telecommuting will become a dominant lifestyle, reshaping transportation, real estate, and business practices.2

Since telecommuting became truly practical in the mid-1990s, telecommuters have become far more productive in how they work. Increasingly, we don't need to work at certain places in order to get work done. For instance, there's nothing magic about a five-day workweek; increasingly, 24/7/365 availability has become the norm for high-end professionals...

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