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Thursday
Jan142010

The Cost of 40 Seconds

I live on a five-acre lot in the middle of an oak forest in Central Minnesota. My wife and I bought the lot and built a house back in 1996 a few months after we were married. We like our lot - it really is a gorgeous location and it does not hurt that a couple years after we moved in a local resort bought all the land around us and built a Audubon-certified Robert Trent Jones golf course. Sometimes it pays to be lucky.

We like the lot, but the primary reason we bought it was cost, not desire. This was the cheapest lot we could find. It was rather remote - a little bit of a drive for each of us. No problem. We were young and my car had a great stereo.

Someday I am going to describe my commute into the office, which is quick and easy thanks to a really bizarre mix of government transfers, incentives and subsidies. Let's just say, if the United States does adopt the transportation pricing models we advocate here, my cost of living will increase substantially. Same goes for a change in the market that would bring about four-dollar gas. But those conversations are for another time. Today I want to talk about the local street portion of my commute.

That portion is spent on two local streets before I get to the county collector road system. It is about 3/4ths of a mile long in total. Of course, these locals streets are vastly over-designed, my example of what we discussed yesterday and the day before. This got me thinking: what would my cost in time be if the design speed was reduced from 40 mph (which I admit to regularly exceeding in this short stretch) to a more modest 25 mph?

The answer: 40 seconds.

(Doing the algebra here does not add to the quality of this post. You'll just have to trust my math on this one.)

Using data from page 24 of Residential Streets, in 2001 when the book was published the the cost of the excess width that allows me to drive faster and save 40 seconds each trip is roughly $2,700 per 100 feet. For my 3,960 foot drive, that is a cost of $107,000.

Wow!

I'm publishing these numbers on our blog, but I'm not going to put them in a book or make them part of Congressional testimony. This is rough calculation with some even rougher numbers, but the conclusion is striking nonetheless.

The city I live in has spent a considerable amount of money ensuring that I can arrive at my destination 40 seconds earlier than if I lived on a more modestly designed street.

I'll say again: Wow! And I say that not because it is a colossal waste of resources that my neighbors, were they aware, would never agree is a wise use of our tax dollars. The "wow" comes from an understanding that my situation is common to the experience of hundreds of millions of Americans.

They can have our 40 seconds. We want our neighborhoods - and our money - back.

 

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