of the responses to my last column ("At
Last, a Debate on Sprawl"), which argued
that sprawl is accompanied by real costs, came from
Republicans. Some were quite annoyed that I
would lend credibility to the notion that sprawl is
a problem because curbing sprawl has been an agenda
item of Democrats and environmentalists.
to acknowledge the adverse effects of sprawl is not
a wise course for Republicans. If development
continues as it has for many decades, the associated
costs will eventually become intolerable. We should
not expect to see an indefinite pattern of extending
new residential and commercial development into
areas where land costs are relatively low.
land costs are not the only costs to be considered.
An offsetting cost is the public expense of
providing infrastructure to serve this extended
growth, which is generally higher than the expense
of serving more compact development.
can’t be blamed on developers exclusively. Many
people prefer to live on large lots rather than in
dense urban settings. They generate the demand.
policies have provided hidden subsidies for sprawl,
inducing growth where it otherwise might not have
gone — at least as quickly.
congestion is currently a major concern. Congestion
not only follows sprawl, but is also greatly
exacerbated by scattered development. Before any
consideration is given to devoting more taxpayer
funds for transportation “solutions” for this
congestion, we should be careful not to repeat the
mistake of 1986, when the legislature agreed to
raise taxes to build more roads and thereby
contributed to a dramatic increase in sprawl.
are essentially two ways to address sprawl. One is
through more governmental regulation and
taxpayer-subsidized transportation projects,
particularly mass transit. The other is through
market-based policies that eliminate subsidies and
force the otherwise hidden costs of sprawl to be
accounted for when developers and homebuyers make
strategy that curbs sprawl will increase the cost of
land for residential and commercial development.
That is an unavoidable reality. But higher land
costs must be analyzed together with other costs
that are reduced or avoided when sprawl is limited.
scarcity of affordable housing is already a social
and political problem. Those who depend on
employment in the three largest urban areas in
Virginia are often forced to find housing that is
within their means at great distance from their
currently subsidize this pattern of growth through
increasingly expensive transportation projects.
burden of providing these transportation projects
has mounted exponentially. Sprawl constantly
increases the average number of trips and the
average length of trips taken by residents and the
businesses that serve them. This is why increased
spending for roads never seems to provide lasting
relief, no matter how much is spent.
Gov. Gerald Baliles continues to advocate the
approach he persuaded the General Assembly to adopt
in 1986 — raise taxes to build more roads. It
worsened the situation then and will have the same
effect now. The primary reason is that this kind of
“public investment” is grossly inefficient.
approach that relies on government control, and
“investment” gives planners and politicians
excessive power to decide where people will develop,
live and work and how they will travel.
market-based approach gives individuals and private
entrepreneurs greater discretion to make those
decisions for themselves. The former option is also
far less cost-effective than the latter,
continue to examine the relative merits and flaws of
each approach in the next column.
December 14, 2005