Highway congestion – linked with the hidden costs of combined housing location and transportation expenses – are putting heavy burdens on our nation’s workforce, according to a recent briefing on Capitol Hill. The Suburban Solutions to Traffic Congestion panel explored the various factors and solutions needed improve the quality of life and consumer knowledge of the U.S. workforce who reside in our core economic engines – city metros.

Over the past few decades, homeownership or renting near employment centers has decreased as urban workers have moved further out from city centers in order to find affordable rent and mortgage payments. This “drive ‘til you qualify” attitude which is connected to sprawl, has led to increased congestion, higher travel expenses, and less leisure time. While the solutions varied from the implementation of more telecommuting to placing transit stations in locations that can eventually be built around, the panel did agree on the reasons for the problem. Lofty living costs are caused by a lack of coordination between housing and transportation, resulting in low levels of both available and frequent modes of transit.

“By correcting the problem, the cost of living savings can be tremendous,” said Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology. “What we need to do is spend a little more time in the planning and engagement stage so that you can have the political backing for related legislation.”

The briefing – sponsored Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) – sought to draw attention to President Obama’s livability agenda and how policy makers can adopt particular suburban-oriented policies to help resolve congested auto commutes for the number of Americans living in the suburbs.

The briefing was moderated by ULI’s Maureen McAvey. She sees the integration of resident education and transit-oriented development as a key component in solving the political dilemma of how legislators can sell related policies to their constituency.

“Often there is not a lot of time spent discussing the benefits of legislation that is intended to curb sprawl,” said McAvey. “For a congressman who is wary about the political consequences of voting for an increase in the gas tax, there is a need to explain how such a measure can upgrade transit everywhere in the country, leading to a financial benefit for everyone.”

In addition to McAvey and Bernstein, the panel included statements from Keith Turner, developer, Cityline Parnters, McLean, Va.; Ed Zelinsky, professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School, New York City; and John Maximuk, program director, Livable Communities Coalition, Atlanta.