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Major Road Builder Argues for Road-Pricing, Against More Asphalt

8:18 AM PDT on August 23, 2013

The primary theme of U.S. transportation policy since the mid-20th century hasn't been accessibility, public health, equality, or even efficiency. Primarily we've spent billions of dollars trying fruitlessly to eliminate congestion by building more roads.

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It has become clear that there are all kinds of problems with having motorist throughput as the highest priority of your transportation system. James Bruckbauer at Michigan Land Use Institute says even big road builders are acknowledging the futility. Check out this passage he found in a publication by HNTB, one of the nation's largest road builders:

Here’s an excerpt from their latest newsletter (page 23):

“Conventional wisdom suggests that we simply need to build more capacity. Adding lanes, however, will never fully solve the congestion problem. When new general-purpose lanes are built, they immediately fill up. They may help compress rush hours slightly, but the congestion problem remains.”

The author also argues that, rather than build new roads, planners should focus on commuters traveling at peak times:

“Further, because most cities experience gridlock during rush hours, rather than all day, priced managed lanes address specific congestion problems without saddling the city with overbuilt infrastructure that gets limited use most of the day.”

The company argues for congestion pricing and price-managed lanes. Those are fees charged to motorists for roadway use, like a toll road.

Still, his point is clear: We can’t build our way out of congestion. In fact, every 10 percent increase in road space generates a 10 percent increase in traffic within several years.

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