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Home » Library » The Costs of Sprawl in Pennsylvania

The Costs of Sprawl in Pennsylvania

Sprawl increases the costs of roads, housing, schools, and utilities; increases automobile use, makes public transit less cost efficient and effective; increases costs incurred due to car accidents; contributes to the concentration of poverty; contributes to the acceleration of socio-economic decline in cities, towns, and older suburb; and increases medical costs by increasing pollution and stress. Two examples given in this piece are, in 1995, Pennsylvanians could have saved $120 million in road, utility and school construction costs if sprawl development was avoided. In the Philadelphia area, 40% of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authorities (SEPTA) annual operating deficit is due to the longer suburban-city commutes, which comprise only 13.6% of the total number of transit trips.
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  • Sprawl increases the costs of roads, housing, schools, and utilities.
    • Three major national research investigations found that smart growth development can lower the construction costs for roads, utilities and schools by up to 25%. Sprawl also results in higher operational costs for these.
    • In 1995, Pennsylvanians could have saved $120 million in road, utility and school construction costs if sprawl development was avoided.
  • Because the design of sprawl development is vehicle dependent, as compared to compact development, it increases automobile use, makes public transit less cost efficient and effective, increases costs incurred due to car accidents, and lowers the use of transit, bikes and walking.
    • In Pennsylvania, suburban residents travel 50% more miles in private vehicles than do urban residents. Rural residents travel 150% more miles than urban residents.
    • In the Philadelphia area, 40% of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authorities (SEPTA) annual operating deficit is due to the longer suburban-city commutes, which comprise only 13.6% of the total number of transit trips.
    • Sprawl increases reverse commuting (commuting to jobs from core cities to suburbs). In the Delaware Valley each reverse commute on public transit is subsidized by $3.47. Intra-Philadelphia commutes are subsidized by $0.81. Between 1970 and 1990, increases in reverse commuting increased the public transit subsidy costs by about $6 million per year.
  • Sprawl contributes to the concentration of poverty and the acceleration of socio-economic decline in cities, towns, and older suburbs.
    • Sprawl tends to create more expensive housing prices. This reduces affordable housing opportunities near the outer-ring suburban job opportunities, and reduces the ability of workers to locate closer to these jobs.
    • Of 12 Pennsylvania locations studied, there were only two in which core city residents could afford a median-priced home in an inner or outer suburb.
    • Sprawl concentrates poverty in both large and small urban areas across the state. In York in 1990, 31% of children under age 18 living in urban areas lived in poverty, while 6% living in the inner and outer suburbs lived in poverty. In Williamsport, these numbers were 30% in the urban core, and 10% in the suburbs.
    • Sprawl development is associated with a fragmented system of local governments. This results in core cities providing numerous expensive services that are consumed by a whole region but paid for by core city residents. In Philadelphia, this costs residents over $60 million a year and without it, the city’s wage tax could be reduced by almost 40%.
  • Sprawl increases pollution and stress.
    • Sprawling development leads to the destruction of large numbers of trees. The North American Forestry Association estimates a 50 year-old tree annually provides $75 in soil erosion and storm water control benefits, $75 in wildlife shelter benefits, $73 of air-cooling services, and $50 of air pollution control benefits. If the value of these benefits were capitalized at a conservative rate of 5%, the market would value each tree at over $55,000.
    • Travel congestion has been found to have statistically significant effects on job satisfaction, work absences due to illness and the incidences of colds and flu. Low density and dispersed development patterns lead to increased freeway travel and travel congestion.

Written for 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania

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Last modified by Gayle Diehl

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