Frontage roads, access roads, feeder roads…whatever you call them, this type of local street that parallels a highway is ubiquitous in Texas and many other states. But why are they there and what do they do for us?
Well, let me start by defining a frontage road, for those of you who may not know what I’m talking about (*gasp*). According to Wikipedia, a frontage road is “a local road running parallel to a higher-speed limited access road.” In urban areas, frontage roads usually provide access to homes and businesses in which would normally be inaccessible from the highway or freeway. But in cases other than when they’re absolutely necessary, should they really be on all of our freeways?
First, let’s look at the advantages. In urban areas, frontage roads separate traffic and reduce congestion from the main highway. In addition, if the highway is closed or obstructed for whatever reason, frontage roads provide an easy alternate route for through traffic. Because of this, through traffic doesn’t have to congest all of the local roads by finding an alternate route.
There’s plenty of disadvantages too, though. The obvious disadvantage is that frontage roads cost more and use more space. Additionally, they create more conflict points for traffic when weaving into the frontage road. However, the worst problem may be that frontage roads facilitate urban sprawl in more suburban areas.
By providing easy access to any point along the freeway, frontage roads offer an easy means for uncontrolled expansion of urban areas. This, of course, has the potential to increase traffic problems in the long run, rather than having the opposite effect.
An interesting trend that I’ve noticed lately, particularly in Texas, is that frontage roads are built first in order to be used as the main highway prior to the actual freeway portion being built. (For example, SH 114 through North Fort Worth and Roanoke, and SH 360 through Mansfield.) This is generally done in more rural and suburban areas where there is little to no development along the highway corridor. In my opinion, this isn’t really necessary and potentially has the effect of creating urban sprawl.
In review, I believe that frontage roads can be a helpful thing, but only in certain circumstances. In urban areas with a lot of preexisting development, frontage roads are necessary. But in rural and suburban areas, I don’t think we should have continuous frontage roads, just plenty of exits to the main roads intersecting the freeway.