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Costs of Sprawl—2000

This extensive report provides background information on sprawl, examines the public and personal costs of sprawl, including on the quality of life and the livability of cities, and discusses the benefits and negative impacts of sprawl. In a study of nationwide growth patterns which projected out 25 years starting in 2000, researchers found that under sprawl vs. compact development, sprawl will consume 4.7 million more acres, 11.8% more will be spent on local road construction, personal travel costs would be 4% higher, it will cost four billion a year more to provide local public-services, average residential housing cost would be 7.8% higher, and developers and local governments will expend $12.6 billion more to provide necessary water and sewer infrastructure.
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This extensive report is the culmination of more than five years of research led by Rutgers University. It provides background information on sprawl, examines the public and personal costs of sprawl, including on the quality of life and the livability of cities, and discusses the benefits and negative impacts of sprawl.

The effects of sprawl growth are mixed. Sprawl has more costs, less revenue, and fewer benefits than compact growth. Many of the costs are measurable while the benefits often are not. Sprawl development consumes land and various types of infrastructure at a higher level than compact development and does not often provide for significant amounts of attached or multifamily housing. In a study of nationwide growth patterns, projected out 25 years and starting in 2000, researchers found that:

  • Sprawl will consume 4.7 million more acres than compact development would have. Under sprawl development, 18.8 million acres of land will be used to build 26.5 million new housing units and 26.5 billion square feet of new nonresidential space. Almost one-quarter of this land conversion could be avoided through simple growth control measures, without compromising growth or altering housing markets.
  • Average residential housing cost would decrease by 7.8% under a controlled versus uncontrolled growth scenario, from $167,038 to $154,035.
  • Developers and local governments will expend more than $190 billion to provide necessary water and sewer infrastructure under traditional development or uncontrolled growth. A controlled growth pattern requires a smaller number of water and sewer laterals needed to serve an equivalent number of residential and nonresidential occupants. Under controlled growth, lower tap-in fees and 4.6 million fewer laterals would amount to national infrastructure savings of $12.6 billion.
  • Under uncontrolled growth, more than $927 billion will be needed to construct 2.0 million new lane-miles of local roads. Under controlled growth, $817 billion would be spent to construct 1.9 million lane-miles of new local roads. The controlled growth scenario saves 9.2% in local lane-miles and 11.8% in local road costs.
  • Under the controlled-growth scenario, travel costs decrease by 4% because of a 4% decrease in miles traveled. The controlled growth scenario achieves 4.7% fewer miles traveled in privately operated vehicles and 19% more miles traveled in public transit.
  • Controlled growth development would save the country $4 billion annually in local public-service costs, decreasing from $143.2 billion/year to 139.2 billion/year. Although under controlled growth, more development will take place in developed areas where public services may be more expensive, demand for the services can be absorbed more readily due to the excess capacity found there.

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Last modified by Gayle Diehl

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