Houstonians pay 3rd-highest sprawl tax rate in U.S.

HOUSTON – We have plenty of sprawl in Houston, from 610 to the Beltway out to 99. The Houston metropolitan area spans more than 10,000 square miles.

Getting to and from work each day can be a costly experience if you live outside the center of the city.

Think tank City Observatory crunched data to come up with a sprawl tax, quantifying how much commuting Americans are stuck paying because of where they live.

The study considered the length of your commute and the cost of driving your vehicle, including maintenance and tolls.

The group says Houstonians pay the third highest sprawl tax in the country, at an average of more than $2,800 a year.

Tory Gattis co-founded the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism which promotes economic opportunity. He says people have their reasons for living further away from the city.

“Obviously when people make this choice to live further out they are making that trade-off, they will spend more on gasoline and car maintenance and their time to make those long commutes. It's not really a tax, because it's voluntary. People in choosing to live in nicer neighborhoods, better school districts, wherever they want to live,” Gattis said.

Gattis also says there are other factors to consider aside from just the cost of commuting. If employers move out to the suburbs, there would be consequences for our tax base.

“In some ways it's healthier for Houston that we've kept the employers in the core and people are making these commutes instead of the employers moving out there,” Gattis added.

City Observatory also studied what it calls the emotional toll of sprawl. It cites a Gallup survey which found commuters who had longer drives to and from work reported being less happy and healthy.

You can read the full report on the sprawl tax here.