Is road investment the route to local economic growth? (Centre for Cities)
Evidence suggests that the local economic benefits of road infrastructure are less than clear.
Last month the Government announced a £1 billion-a-year plan to relieve congestion, including a bypass fund to take traffic around cities and towns with the worst jams. The long-term plan is to improve productivity across the country by upgrading 3,800 miles of A-roads maintained by local authorities, who expect to receive a significant amount of funding to make that happen. It also aims to improve connectivity, responding to local growth priorities, and unlocking new housing opportunities as well as economic potential.
Road schemes are broadly considered as a reliable way to take lorries out of town centres and make people’s journeys faster and easier. Unfortunateley, however, there is little robust evaluation evidence on the impact they have on local economic development. The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth reviewed 2,300 evaluations of the local economic impact of transport projects, and found only 17 robust evaluations looking at the local economic impact of roads – and the findings on impacts are rather mixed.
On one hand, there is some evidence showing that bypasses took traffic out of the towns and city centres, with a mixed or negative effect on population depending on the nature of the project. For example, the evidence suggests that new highways can result in a population drop in city centres, but an increase in suburban areas. Congestion did not always decrease as a result of new roads, and traffic growth on new roads was sometimes higher than forecast. This is because of induced traffic on minor roads, which sometimes increased demand for newer roads.