There is No Single Cause of Sprawl

Enlarged view

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Transportation Funding

Under the provisions of the 1956 Highway Act, the federal government subsidized new highways by paying 90 percent of their cost supported by revenue from the federal gasoline taxes. In contrast, localities paid a much higher percentage for investment in mass transit. These financial structures set up powerful incentives to neglect mass transit and focus regional transportation investments solely on roads. More than any other measure, urban studies scholars cite the influence of the 1956 Highway Act as creating the decentralized, automobile-dependent metropolis we know today.

Transportation Affects Location Decisions

With the growth of federal investment in highways, roads displaced railways as the primary mode of transport to move raw materials to manufacturing and on to the market. They provided greater flexibility of service, greater responsiveness to new product and traffic demands, and changing origin and destination points. Old rail networks that reached efficiently into cities no longer conferred location advantages and thus became obsolete. As trucking gained prominence, it played into location decisions. Manufacturing industries moved out to areas where they could benefit from cheaper land, taxes, labor and other subsidies. The evidence of this pattern is visible today in industrial parks and office parks located in outlying suburbs of towns or encroaching into farm fields and green space at the edge of urban areas, in contrast to abandoned railroad and industrial yards known as greyfields and brownfields near old downtown areas.

Factors Influencing Growth Patterns

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Section 10 of 21