The High Costs of Sprawl

Sacramento Business Journal – Nov. 14, 2005

 

Study: Sprawl costs billions; Sacramento area pays high price Residents of the area centered on Sacramento will pay $57,093 per person by 2025 to cover the additional costs caused by sprawling development, second only to Las Vegas among U.S. economic centers that face the sprawl problem, a new book asserts.

The Sacramento “economic area,” made up of the traditional metro area plus neighboring rural counties, is No. 14 in the U.S. when ranked by sprawl costs, the authors say. The markets facing the highest costs are Los Angeles, Washington/Baltimore and the San Francisco Bay area, with costs associated with sprawl estimated at $535 billion, $384 billion and $378 billion respectively for the period from 2000 through 2025.

But while the total cost for Sacramento is $129.8 billion over that same span, the cost per person is much higher. Only Las Vegas — No. 15 in overall sprawl costs at $109.2 billion — had a higher per-capita cost, at $72,697 per person.

The authors of “Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development” tapped the results of 10 years of research to conclude that shifting to more compact forms of development could save billions of dollars over time.

“Sprawl has direct and quantifiable costs to our economy and in our individual lives,” said Robert Burchell, co-author of the book and co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University.

“We are all paying a staggering price for sprawling development in this country, and that price will only go up as gas prices increase,” Burchell said. “Sprawling communities need longer public roads, increase the cost of new water and sewer hookups by 20 percent to 40 percent, impose higher costs on police and fire departments and schools, and more. These costs are passed on to businesses and residents through higher taxes and fees and sometimes through fewer public services. And in most cases, sprawling developments do not generate enough property taxes to cover these added costs.”

The additional costs amount to some $84 million a day nationwide, the authors concluded.

But shifting 25 percent of the anticipated low-density growth to more compact forms would save billions in the years ahead, the book said. Such a shift in the Sacramento area would translate to savings of $8.2 billion, or more than $3,600 per person, by the study’s calculation.

Planners in this region have been working to encourage more compact and transit-oriented development through a variety of means, including the Blueprint Project coordinated by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments .

Along with Burchell, the authors are Anthony Downs, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Barbara McCann, a transportation and land use policy writer; and Sahan Mukherji, research associate at the Rutgers center.

 

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Sprawl and Suburbia

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