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Bypasses of Bypasses: A Case Study on Induced Sprawl From North Carolina

9:35 AM PST on March 8, 2011

An old economic principle posits that if supply of a given item is increased, demand for said item also rises. And nowhere is this maxim more true, perhaps, than in the practice of highway building, where a billion dollar project to reduce congestion often itself becomes congested a few years after completion.

The Charlotte Observer called the Garden Parkway project in Gaston County a "money waster" that "will induce sprawl," but state transportation officials are pushing forward. Photo: Gaston Gazette

Unfortunately, this tendency is rarely considered by the transportation officials who continue to push for highway expansions, despite historic budget shortfalls and the lessons of experience.

So thank you, North Carolina, for providing this wonderful example of the hazards of induced demand. Many cities across this Southern coastal state have invested in highway bypasses only to find those very bypasses overrun with sprawl and congestion. In some cases, these towns are calling for bypasses of the very bypasses that were to reduce traffic.

The problem is so pronounced that the state’s transportation secretary, Gene Conti, is drawing a line in the sand. This report is from Mary Newsom, an editor at the Charlotte Observer and creator of The Naked City blog:

The problem, of course, is that you can hardly go anywhere in North Carolina, or even in the country, and not find a state-taxpayer-built highway envisioned as a “bypass” that has become a traffic nightmare because the local government involved allowed extreme highway glop to be built along it. Even places as comparatively traffic free as Albemarle have clogged bypasses. Shelby wants a bypass of its bypass. They are all what former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has referred to as “corridors of crap.”

So, I asked Conti, should the state’s taxpayers reward those towns with another new bypass?

His reply: “Well, no.”

“All of us would benefit from a much greater collaboration on those growth issues,” he said. He said the DOT is trying to work to bring local governments more into transportation discussions.

Don’t expect the state to build your city a bypass to compensate for the existing bypass your local governments have glopped up, Conti said today. “Those days are gone,” he said.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclicio.us reviews the book “Driven to Kill: Vehicles as Weapons,” a reflection on our violent, auto-centric culture and the laws that allow motorists to kill with relative impunity. M-Bike.org outlines Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s plans to use walkable development and bike infrastructure to help attract the kind of young professionals needed to remedy the city’s economy. And Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia take a look at growing conservative opposition to livability and sustainable transportation.

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