Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bringing Jobs to People

My column for this week, about how I hate traffic. See also the post "We're Number Five by Greg on the subject.

From the Potomac News, Thursday, May 10, 2007, "Bringing Jobs to the People":

I live and work in Manassas. My commute is 10 minutes if I don't get stuck by a train. I used to live near Independent Hill, but when it started taking more than 20 minutes to get to work, I moved to reduce my commute. Well, that and to be in a real neighborhood where they didn't have trained attack dogs wandering around other people's backyards.

In other words, while I love to drive, I hate traffic. I hate the uncertainty of not knowing if a trip is going to take 30 minutes or three hours. I hate deciding whether I should leave early and arrive an hour ahead of time, or wait a little and arrive unfashionably late. I hate knowing there are some times of the day when you simply cannot get "there." So if something is happening in Tysons Corner at 3 p.m., I just figure that's one less thing to do in my life.

But sometimes even I must brave the great journey into the big city. Last week I had to be in Crystal City just before lunch. I left an hour early, and was moving right along until just inside the Beltway on Interstate 66, when traffic suddenly stopped. Panicking, I scanned for traffic news, but no backup was mentioned. And after about 10 minutes of moving a brisk walking pace, the backup disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared. Apparently, random stops on superhighways are normal around here.

When I am stuck in traffic, I find myself shouting to nobody in particular, "Where are you all going, and why don't you just buy a house there?" And thinking how nice it is to not have to do that every day.

Anyway, being traffic-phobic, it seems strange that I chose to live in one of the worst traffic counties in America. But according to Tuesday's paper, Prince William has the fifth-worst commute in the nation. It's usually great to be in the top 10, but this is not one of those times. We beat every other county in our area. We are ranked higher than Los Angeles, the world's biggest parking lot. Only New Yorkers spend more time driving to work.

It's not hard to understand why we rank so high. Virtually every job in our region is located in the center of the District of Columbia. So every person living in a 100-mile radius is driving to the same place. We happen to be the furthest from that location, so we suffer the most.

The politicians understand our pain. Some of them actually experience the pain of long commuting times. So they just voted to spend billions of dollars on our transportation problem. All so we can move thousands more people from a place where there are houses and no jobs, to a place 40 miles away where there are jobs and no houses.

So we will build more roads to take people from here to there. We'll extend rail, and maybe start a Bus Rapid Transit service. But that will just encourage more people to live here and work there. As Del. Scott Lingamfelter said, "If you try to 'fix transportation' with money alone, all you will do is create temporary relief."

Instead of moving a million people every day from their homes to their jobs, what we need to do is move the jobs to where the homes are. Scott says, "at some point the federal government has got to wake up from the fact that there's nothing magic about having all these job centers in the District."

But that's easier said than done. It was considered a major coup when the FBI chose to build their new facility at Prince William's Innovation site. But that's only about 350 jobs. What we need are tens of thousands of jobs to move out to Prince William and beyond.

With the Internet, there is no need to be in the same place to work together. It's time the feds realized that building new buildings out where people live is cheaper and more effective than spending billions on infrastructure just so people can waste millions of hours moving back and forth each day.

And I wish they'd hurry, because I feel I'm missing something special at Tysons Corner at 3 o'clock.

1 comment:

Citizen Tom said...

Moving some of the jobs out of DC might help; however, if the Democrats get two senators and a congresswoman from the district, it will be a long time before that happens.

Actually, the jobs have already been moving out of DC. As a contractor, I have been working in this area for ten years, and I have never worked in DC. The Pentagon is, for example, outside the district. Nonetheless, I agree most of the jobs tend to be near the metropolitan core.

Our transportation problem requires a multifaceted approach. However, our politicians are incapable of managing such a complex effort. In fact, if you let the politicians manage the effort, the primary result will be politicians demanding more power and make us all do thing we do not want to do. Instead of expecting our politician to do very much, we need to work to get them out of the way. Let the normal economics of free enterprise work its wonders. Consider a few examples.

We can work to make government smaller, and we can transition some “government functions” to private industry and nonprofits. Private businesses don’t have to be told to locate where they are most accessible to workers.

We can build public transit systems, including roads, financed strictly from the tolls and user fees. That will force our politicians to build these systems where they are needed. In addition, because stoplights would reduce toll collections, that will keep the darn fools from cluttering up “parkways” with stoplights.