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Our Congested Equality

February 14, 2013

Picture this: its a hot summer morning, and you’re sitting on the highway in your 2001 Toyota Corolla with the windows down because, lets face it, your air conditioning hasn’t worked in years. For miles in front of you and miles behind you, all you can see is bumper-to-bumper traffic. Looking at the faces of the other commuters, you feel a sense of comradery (hey, you’re all in this together!) — that is until you look to your left and see a luxury car zip by you in the new Lexus Lane.

The Beltway circling Washington, DC is the means by which thousands of federal workers get to their jobs every day. Out of all the major US metro areas, Washington tops the list with the most traffic congestion. But the highway officials have come up with a solution: Lexus Lanes. For a steep fee, motorists can travel in express toll lanes. These express toll lanes are not built for everyone, but rather designed for the benefit of affluent. The more motorists that use these express lanes, the higher the tolls get, with no cap. That is no problem for the wealthy traveling to the nation’s capital, but for for the average middle-class commuter, $1.25 a mile for a toll is out of the question.

These Lexus Lanes are beyond symbolic of the changes happening in Washington and around our nation. There is a growing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of the country, and it is presenting itself in ways beyond average income (although, in Washington, the top 5 percent made fifty-four times more in income than the bottom 20 percent). Inequality is expressed in reality and traffic congestion, with the wealthy bidding higher on the best real estate and forcing the middle and lower classes further out of the cities, and creating longer and more stressful commutes.

To learn more about the links between traffic and inequality, read Sam Pizzigati’s (The Rich Don’t Always Win), article “The capital of inequality” in The Providence Journal.

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