But what if I could start and end each workday with an invigorating 15-minute drive through smoothly flowing, well-maintained city streets equipped with smart traffic lights, and on expressways wide enough to handle the demands placed upon them? That, I could go for. And it would be less polluting than the status quo, too, because while going fast uses more fuel than going slowly, starting and stopping in heavy traffic and at poorly-timed lights is much worse.
I’m not saying that we should invest a whole lot of money building bigger and better roads. I’m just saying that I would enjoy it if such infrastructure existed. Whether it would be worth the cost, though, I don’t know. And in fact, no one can make that cost-benefit analysis because the costs are currently so divorced from the benefits. If roads and train tracks and bus companies were privately owned and operated; if all transportation subsidies were eliminated; if externalities like pollution were properly internalized as much as possible; then the market would simply give us the transportation infrastructure that was the result of all of our individual preferences about such things.
That’s what we should do: let the market figure it out instead of imposing costs on some people and showering others with benefits while mucking up price signals and creating nuisances like gridlock. A tall order, of course, but why not dream big?