Your Long Commute is Bad for St. Louis

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This is America, and you absolutely have the right to choose where you live even if that includes a long commute, but from the perspective of the state and local community it’s a disaster and should, at the very least, not be encouraged.

Oil makes us wealthier by facilitating the trade of goods across long distances. It enhances our quality of life by enabling us to access a myriad of leisure options. But when it comes to commuting or running errands, it makes us poorer. For the commuter it leaves less money in his pocket for other things. The long commute lowers quality of life by wasting time.

For the state and region long commutes make us poorer through the amount of infrastructure we have to build and maintain. It sends wealth away from the region via the gas pumps. The greater proportion of the wealth created locally that is kept here the better. Our governments should be trying to keep it here, not help send it away by building more roads and encouraging auto-oriented development patterns.

The reason Texas is growing, aside from huge amounts of immigration, is that its oil industry receives wealth from all over the country. Consider how much of our wealth leaves the local economy in support of our commutes.

The region that’s the best at this is Washington DC. Its main industry is fantastic at vacuuming up wealth from the rest of the country. The DC metro has six of the top ten highest median income counties.

We’re never going to have an oil industry, the nation’s capital, or Wall Street, but we should be making every effort to get better at this game. That’s why it’s important to nurture our start-up scene. It’s another reason to not give incentives to retailers. It was the point of the China Hub. It was meant to provide a conduit for Missouri goods to get to China and for their wealth to come back here. But we freaked out over the word China, and we’re still scratching our heads over why we’re a slow growth state and region.

If you like your long commute, you can keep it, but the state and local government should make sure its true costs are borne by you and not socialized across the community.

{According to Walkable DFW 84% of vehicle ownership costs leaves the local economy}

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  • T-Leb

    The argument that a long commute allows dollars to leave our region is a little suspicious. Wood River Refinery has a pipeline from Canada delivering tar sands to be refined. Billions were put into that refinery, many local workers and suppliers were involved. Pipe is made in Arkansas at Welspun Tubular with sheet made at Nucor Steel down the road. Hwy55 is going to be maintained if people travel from Barnhart to StL or not. Ever notice all the steel beams traveling up Hwy55? They come from Nucor-Yamato Steel Co in Arkansas. StL sends scrap down the river for their mini-mills (electric arc furnace)

    I feel as though the argument being made, can also be made about tobacco or even marijuana… I don’t think either are made in great quantities in Missouri.

    • rgbose

      I thought about Wood River and yes that helps the local economy. But the refining costs in a gallon of gas isn’t much. Most of it is the crude price for which Missouri and STL get nothing. My point is commutes, not trade, that certainly makes us wealthier and justifies paying for roads. But widening I-55 to eight lanes just for commuters, I argue, makes us poorer.

      • Imran

        So I moved to the city and kept my job in the county. The move extended my commute from 8 minutes to 25 minutes (I’ve driven a hybrid for the last 7 years). Are you advocating that I should ideally move back to the county or change jobs?

        • rgbose

          Not at all. You should weigh your personal reasons and decide accordingly. Government should stop encouraging longer commutes and job sprawl.

    • matimal

      It not only leaves our region, it leaves our nation, though that too is becoming more balanced.