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Interstate Development


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So, I know interstates aren't viewed as a good thing for smart, sustainable growth but I'd like to bring up the discussion of interstate-spurred development. 

I was driving around greensboro yesterday and in the sedgefield/jamestown areas, there is a ton of brand new development in areas that were older and somewhat rundown. This development was brought on by the new interstate running through the area. Mass transit isn't the only way to spur economic development.

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No one disputes that Interstates spur economic development; of course they do! They go through areas that typically have very low land values and allow quick, relatively safe automobile access to those areas. Big box retailers, developers, and chains pounce on this, buying cheap land from homeowners who don't want to live next to an interstate, and building suburban and exurban developments. The question is rather: does the infrastructural investment pay for itself? That is, does the infrastructure generate enough new (not cannibalized) economic activity to cover the cost of building it and maintaining it? Much of the time it seems that a new interstate or highway causes chain retailers to move to newly-built strip malls near highway interchanges, while closing stores in more traditional malls or older strip malls, and all of that new development requires additional linear feet of electric, gas, water, sewer, and "surface" roads. Our much-hyped infrastructure deficit indicates that we're not finding it worthwhile (or possible?) to maintain the infrastructure that we've already built. Why?

I think Strong Towns has some worthwhile posts and videos on the subject.

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