More road traffic due to a recovering economy

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute suggests traffic has increased due to an improved economy:

America’s traffic congestion recession is over. Just as the U.S. economy has regained nearly all of the 9 million jobs lost during the downturn, a new report produced by INRIX and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) shows that traffic congestion has returned to pre-recession levels.

According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, travel delays due to traffic congestion caused drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and kept travelers stuck in their cars for nearly 7 billion extra hours – 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. The total nationwide price tag: $160 billion, or $960 per commuter…

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that Americans have driven more than 3 trillion miles in the last 12 months. That’s a new record, surpassing the 2007 peak just before the global financial crisis. Report authors say the U.S. needs more roadway and transit investment to meet the demands of population growth and economic expansion, but added capacity alone can’t solve congestion problems. Solutions must involve a mix of strategies, combining new construction, better operations, and more transportation options as well as flexible work schedules.

I’d love to know whether the average driver would prefer a depressed economy or more traffic. This could be an example of competing interests: a depressed economy could have ramifications for jobs and retirement savings but many people may not have to think about it if they have a job. Yet, if you have a job, an increasingly lengthy commute makes few happy. This might lead to people wanting the economy to be better but not wanting those people to drive. (If only all the new jobs could be telecommuting workers!)

Is the real story about the economy or is it about (a) an increasing population (though the population growth rate may be quite low, the US still added over 2 million people in 2013) and (b) cheaper gas over the last year?

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