Suburbs don’t mind money spent on highways, services that help them

Alana Semuels looks at who supports the widening of highways even as research suggests building more lanes just adds to traffic:

The support for highways could be because people in the region are moving further from the city center, to suburbs served by the highways. Between 2010 and 2015, suburbs such as Austin grew 25 percent between 2010 and 2015, while Bryant grew 19.6 percent, according to the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, called Metroplan. Little Rock grew up 3.1 percent in population, and Pulaski County, where Little Rock is located, grew just 3.3 percent, while Saline County grew 8.7 percent.

Suburbs often grow when highways are particularly robust; if people can quickly get out of the city center to far-flung neighborhoods, there’s little incentive for them to stay in the city. But the causal arrow runs both ways: Once there are robust suburbs, the residents there tend to support projects that will benefit them, and those projects include roads that will supposedly make their commutes faster.

Regional politics often favor spending on resources to suburbs, especially when their populations grow so quickly, according to Joseph DiMento, a professor at UC Irvine who has studied the construction of urban freeways.

“Once people move to the suburbs, they want to be serviced, and historically, the suburbs were wealthier and more politically important, so their votes would go for replacing the freeway and improving it, rather than displacing it,” he said.

But, try to raise tax monies on a regional scale for mass transit and suburbanites are often not pleased as they don’t perceive this as a benefit for them.

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a study that shows the statistical relationship between suburban population growth and highway building. What is the strength of the relationship? This is the general argument: after World War II, the government spent money in certain ways and one path that spurred suburban growth was the construction of a federal highway system. Of course, suburbs were already growing at this point but highways certainly helped.

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