High oil costs squeeze already-tight budgets for families across the country

Last week the New America Foundation hosted a panel to discuss the rising cost of oil and different strategies for tackling the issue. Panelists touched on a variety of areas, from national security to “green jobs” to the growing need for transit-oriented development around employment centers. Most of the discussion focused on mid- to long-range changes and solutions, but one story in particular illustrated the pressing nature of our immediate oil crisis and the toll it takes on America’s families.

A couple in Maine both drive to their jobs, but the rising cost of gas has squeezed their budget so tightly that the gentleman has taken on a second job just to cover the cost of the gas he and his wife need to get to their primary jobs. The couple’s predicament paints a stark portrait of how long drives can impact families’ budgets. The couple is working more but they’re not getting ahead, at best they’re just treading water. If the husband couldn’t find a second job, would they have been forced to quit one of their jobs because they couldn’t afford the commute?

For Americans who can’t afford $3/gallon gas, public transportation options are becoming an essential way to reduce expenses. While the logical assumption would be that increased need for public transportation would lead to increased revenue and service, the opposite is happening. As many states face financial crises, local governments are cutting transportation services across the country. These service cuts lead to decreased ridership, which reduces revenue even further. Economic recovery in these areas is, in turn, slowed since cuts to public transportation often hamper workers’ ability to connect with employers.


Five Cities Argue the Economic Case to Tear Down a Highway

Commuters sitting in gridlock may find it hard to believe, but many smaller and mid-size cities in America have under-used highways. In some of these cities, highways that were built decades ago are now impeding potentially valuable real estate development. And as many highways from the middle of the last century deteriorate past the point of minor repairs to needing to be entirely rebuilt, leaders in these cities are starting to question the cost and efficiency of maintaining certain pieces of their highway systems.

In Seattle, Cleveland, Syracuse and a number of other cities across the country, leaders are debating the merits of removing portions of their underused, crumbling highway systems to allow for economic development instead. As older highway segments meet the end of their useful life, civic leaders are presented with a rare opportunity to reduce expenses on underused infrastructure and create new opportunity for development at the same time. (editors note: according to transportation engineers, a road or bridge’s “useful life” is determined to be over when repairs are so expensive and the conditions are so bad that it would cost several times more to rebuild the road or bridge than to tear it down and build something different.)


Oklahoma City attracts businesses, gets healthy with smart growth principles

Oklahoma City Mayor Mark Cornett (R) is making his city more attractive to businesses, tackling a public health crisis and he’s using smart growth strategies to get it done. Cornett gained notoriety for tackling Oklahoma City’s obesity epidemic by changing the landscape of the city. After setting a goal in 2008 for the city to lose a million pounds, he passed a massive $777 million “Metropolitan Area Project” in 2009 that made jogging and biking trails, sidewalks and neighborhood parks a priority in downtown development.

The project aimed to make Oklahoma City’s residents healthier, but slimmer figures weren’t Cornett’s sole goal. Mayor Cornett also understood that an obesity epidemic could deter businesses that might consider locating in Oklahoma City. He recently told Next American City, “if I’m a job creator, and I see Oklahoma City on the list of the most obese cities in the country, I’ve got to think: What are my health care costs going to be? What’s my absenteeism rate going to be? Why would I create jobs in a city that doesn’t value health?”