Does Compact Development Increase or Reduce Traffic Congestion?

It is now widely held, even among many state transportation departments, that you cannot “pave your way out of congestion” (at least in the long run) due to highway induced traffic and highway induced development (sprawl). Therefore, any solution to highway congestion must be multi-faceted and must, in particular, reduce the need for so much vehicular traffic. From years of other research, the research team knows that compact development that is dense, diverse, well-designed, etc. reduces vehicle miles traveled. But compact development also concentrates origins and destinations. No one has yet determined, using credible compactness/sprawl metrics and congestion/travel time data, the net effect of these countervailing forces. Using compactness/sprawl metrics developed in an earlier project at the University of Utah, and congestion/travel time data from Texas Transportation Institute's (TTI's) Urban Mobility Scorecard Annual Report database, this study will determine which point of view is correct. It will do so by (1) measuring compactness, congestion, and other control variables using the best national data available for U.S. urbanized areas; and (2) relating these variables to one another using multivariate methods to determine whether compactness is positively or negatively related to congestion and travel times. This project will be very cost-effective. The compactness/sprawl metrics have already been developed and published by the Principal Investigator (PI) of this project for urbanized areas, metropolitan areas, metropolitan counties, and census tracts. They have already been used by our team to study other costs of sprawl in five peer reviewed articles. The research team's current sample of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) urbanized areas consists of the largest 162 urbanized areas, all with populations over 200,000. The research team's sample will be expanded to include all urbanized areas with over 100,000 population. Smaller urbanized areas are unlikely to experience major traffic congestion, and will be omitted. Control variables will be estimated using publicly available data sets, principally the American Community Survey and the National Transit Database. Congestion/travel time data are now available, for the first time, for 471 FHWA urbanized areas from INRIX, in association with TTI.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Contract Numbers:

    NITC 1020

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    University of Utah, Salt Lake City

    City & Metropolitan Planning
    201 South Presidents Circle
    Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84112

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    TREC at Portland State University

    1900 SW Fourth Ave, Suite 175
    P.O. Box 751
    Portland, Oregon  United States  97201
  • Project Managers:

    Hagedorn, Hau

  • Performing Organizations:

    University of Utah, Salt Lake City

    City & Metropolitan Planning
    201 South Presidents Circle
    Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84112
  • Principal Investigators:

    Ewing, Reid

  • Start Date: 20160801
  • Expected Completion Date: 20170731
  • Actual Completion Date: 20171001
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01607664
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: National Institute for Transportation and Communities
  • Contract Numbers: NITC 1020
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Aug 16 2016 6:17PM