An Economist’s View of Road Concurrency

In June 1989 in Orlando, professor Ronald G. Holcombe of Florida State University made the following comments regarding road concurrency in the State Growth Management Law. In general, they track what Anthony Downs had to say regarding his “triple convergence” theory. I believe these comments will be extremely important to keep in mind:

One implication is that levels of service, as defined by Florida Administrative Code Rule 9J-5, may be impossible to implement. Road improvements intended to raise the level of service could result in increased levels of traffic instead.

It could make sense to have temporarily lower levels of service in areas of new development.

More congestion would make it easier to implement mass transit in an area. Mass transit could improve levels of service without direct roadway improvements.

…Economic principles suggest that people should pay for the infrastructure they use. This imposes costs on users, causing them to take account of the costs of their own actions.

One implication is that gasoline taxes are a better source of revenue for roadway improvements than other sources such as sales (or income) taxes.

…the last development built that adds traffic to a road is not the development that causes the congestion. All traffic on the road, whether from new or old developments, are equally responsible for the congestion on roads.

…If this principle is not adhered to, it creates a common pool problem (with the arterial road being the common pool). Everyone has an incentive to develop property too fast so as not to be the one who is charged for congestion on the roads. Thus, a policy of taxing new development more than existing developments for common infrastructure will lead to overly rapid development, helping to cause congestion problems that the policy is intended to solve.

This will make it impossible in some areas to alleviate congestion by enlarging capacity. There is a fallacy that sometimes creeps into highway planning that a given amount of development will create a given amount of traffic. In fact, the amount of traffic created by a given development depends upon how costly it is to use the roads. The mere act of enlarging capacity will create congestion without additional development by reducing the incentive to avoid peak hour travel, creating the incentive to take more trips, and reducing the incentive to live close to work. Congestion is a cost that rations roadway use, and it follows that unless tolls are charged, congestion cannot be eliminated from intensely populated areas by enlarging roads.


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