I firmly believe that future people are going to regard the level of traffic congestion tolerated by the people of the early 21st century as slightly bizarre. I only rarely drive, so it’s not a big issue in my life, but perhaps that makes the persistence of this solvable problem more salient to me. At any rate, further evidence that it’s a hugely underrated issue is provided by Janet Currie’s paper “Traffic Congestion and Infant Health: Evidence from EZ Pass”
This paper provides evidence of the significant negative health externalities of traffic congestion. We exploit the introduction of electronic toll collection, or E-ZPass, which greatly reduced traffic congestion and emissions from motor vehicles in the vicinity of highway toll plazas. Specifically, we compare infants born to mothers living near toll plazas to infants born to mothers living near busy roadways but away from toll plazas with the idea that mothers living away from toll plazas did not experience significant reductions in local traffic congestion. We also examine differences in the health of infants born to the same mother, but who differ in terms of whether or not they were “exposed” to E-ZPass. We find that reductions in traffic congestion generated by E-ZPass reduced the incidence of prematurity and low birth weight among mothers within 2km of a toll plaza by 6.7-9.1% and 8.5-11.3% respectively.