Does Road Expansion Improve Traffic?

Sure, it might initially seem like an obvious answer. Roads and highways are generally constructed and expanded in order to alleviate traffic. And in the short run, fewer traffic problems is usually the effect. But some say that the expansion of congested roads is completely futile, and for understandable reasons.

This blogger makes a convincing argument about why new roads don’t really alleviate traffic. Her argument says that new roads increase demand, and thus eventually increase traffic. However, I only believe this is true when the new road offers additional convenience–say, if the road connects two big cities when only a roundabout route was previously available. But can the same concept be applied to roads that aren’t completely new construction, but simply expanded?

Considering the current state of things, my answer to that question is a resounding “yes.

In an ideal world, roads would be expanded because of anticipated demand, and not because of unbearable levels of congestion. But with TxDOT being $18 billion in debt right now, that probably really isn’t an option. Additionally, in a lot of busy cities in the metroplex, new construction isn’t really possible without extensive demolition. Because of this, people are hesitant to expand roads until it is far beyond necessary.

Even though we can’t really fix this issue in current development, it’s possible to accommodate for possible road expansion in future developments. To prevent the need for demolition and further right-of-way acquisition, there needs to be a significant “buffer” space surrounding all new major roads and arterial. In this space, all residential and commercial construction should be restricted. (I touched on this idea a bit in a previous post.)

This not only allows for easy road expansion, but also makes conditions safer by encouraging the implementation of high-volume collector streets. If traffic is directed onto these collector streets, people aren’t turning out directly onto the highway from a plethora of scattered driveways, but preferably from a signalized intersection. Many housing subdivisions are already like this, but it would be nice to have it for businesses, too.

So, in review, road construction and expansion does increase traffic in the long run. However, by making some changes to the current system, we can make these necessary expansions cheaper and more painless.

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  • Branden Helms

    Driving is not a supply and demand function, treating it as such is exactly why we have traffic issues.

    If creating new roads didn’t create new congestion, why has not one city in the world effectively relieved congestion with new road building? Surely if the two weren’t related, someone would have figured it out.