South-Western College Publishing - Economics  
The Road to Ruin
Subject Opportunity cost
Topic Scarcity, Choice, and Opportunity Cost
Key Words Time
News Story

There are many expensive road construction projects in process. The rationale for them is that they will decrease the time taken to commute, and that they will improve road safety, once they are finished.

However, better roads attract more traffic. As a result, the time saved will be less than might be expected. For example, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Group, a project at an interchange in Springfield, Virginia, is delaying drivers 30 minutes each rush hour, and will do so for eight years, but only 30 seconds will be saved in commuting time per trip when it is completed.

As a result, the Policy Group encourages states to look to other ways of easing congestion. Accidents could be removed more quickly. Alternative means of transportation would also help.

(Updated November 1, 1999)

1. a. What is the cost in minutes of the Springfield, Virginia interchange delay in rush hour?
  b.What is the opportunity cost in dollars? Explain.
  c. What will be the benefit in time and dollars when it is completed?
  d.Is the construction worthwhile? Explain.
2. a. If people were to use alternative transport, what would be their opportunity cost?
  b. What would be the benefit to them?
  c. Would the use of alternative transportation be worthwhile? Explain.
  d. Are commuters likely to use alternative means of traveling to work? Why or why not?
Source Scott Bowles, "Study: Road work won't give relief," USA Today, September 23, 1999.

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