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

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.

Empty roads at off-peak hours are one inefficiency caused by transportation policies that seek to eliminate congestion with more asphalt. Image: ## Michigan Land Use Institute##

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.

Interesting to see a road building company admit what the states of Wisconsin and Texas, and even FHWA to some extent, continue to deny.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Active Trans writes about a condo complex in Chicago that has filed a suit claiming Divvy bike share stations are uglier than parked cars. Denver Urbanism shares some hard data showing cyclists follow the rules better when there’s better infrastructure in place. And A View from the Cycle Path says London’s children suffer from the same problems American children do: too much chauffeuring, too little activity.

0 thoughts on Major Road Builder Argues for Road-Pricing, Against More Asphalt

  1. HNTB is an engineering conglomerate, not a highway contractor. There’d be a ton of civil, electrical, and communications work for them in congestion pricing. Whatever your opinion is, be wary of talking points that come from international consulting firms…

  2. What’s the basis for your blanket statement, “every 10 percent increase in road space generates a 10 percent increase in traffic within several years”?

  3. Yes. There’s really not much evidence that only the affluent use them. If the moniker were actually valid we might want to reconsider their use, but even then only if price-managed lanes actually resulted in slower trip times for those who don’t pay to use them, which also doesn’t generally seem to be the case.

  4. Rightly said. HNTB is an engineering firm (domestic.. not international) But they delve into rail and transit projects, and basically whatever projects the public demands.. (in the Bay Area I’ve seen them involved with… BART, MUNI, Caltrain, VTA… oh and in a different light they had some big architecture projects including the future SFO control tower and 49er stadium). So a road builder they are not… a highway designer yes, but not exclusively.

    As designers, working with planners and the public it makes sense to take this path. Instead of pushing for new roadways, how about use what we have more efficiently? Take for example what congestion pricing has done for the Bay Bridge Commute. There is a real cost to driving and sure some areas will want toll roads much like toll bridges, an HOV lane that doubles as a “lexus” lane is fine by me if the prices are set to keep traffic moving at a designated speed. The fact most people will argue is that HOV lanes are underutilized because there just aren’t that many people carpooling.

    This is a misleading and uninformed article. I’ve seen much better arguments for tolling and pricing and really do see the benefit. I think streetsblog should stick to writing articles about how congestion pricing has made positive strides in commutes (and parking!), because this fodder simply doesn’t resonate.

  5. HOV lanes have been less successful than special-priced lands and HOT lanes (where a single-occupant vehicle can still drive by paying a toll that is set to ensure the lane is used, but stay free-flowing).

    After all, there are much more people able to pay some money to travel faster, than able to get someone to ride along.

  6. Thanks. I’m skeptical re the statement but will look at the paper when I have time, hopefully next week. Could you send me a pdf off-line (kea at igc dot org)? I couldn’t download it from the link. Thanks.

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