Build schools, not new roads

Voters were smart to reject higher taxes for more roads in the recent T-SPLOST vote, because more roads do not lead to less traffic congestion.

Building new roads just encourages more people to move out to the end of the new road, and traffic is just as bad as or worse than before.

There is even a name for this phenomenon — induced demand— essentially meaning that the road creates its own congestion.

This fact has been known by informed planners for a while and was recently confirmed by two economists.

Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner, in an article published in the American Economic Review in 2011, carefully analyzed data nationwide to show that more roads actually lead to slightly worse congestion than before all the new roads were built.

In fact, their best estimate was that adding 1 percent to an area’s miles of roads increased traffic by 1.03 percent.

All that really happens is that taxpayers spend a lot of money on roads.

Focusing specifically on the metro Atlanta region, the lesson is that Atlanta’s traffic is not due to inadequate roads.

The problem is that people live so far away from where they work, shop, and do all the other things that involve getting in their cars.

Do we think that people in Atlanta live a long way from work because they love sitting in traffic?

The more obvious answer is that people live a long way from work because they either cannot afford to live closer to their work or because they moved to someplace with a better public school system.

The city of Atlanta has been experiencing a quiet renaissance and is one of the very few cities nationwide with a growing population.

People like and want to live in Atlanta.

However, most of the people moving to Atlanta (the city, not the metro area) are either young people or older empty- nesters.

Only 16.8 percent of the city of Atlanta’s population is school age (5 to 19). In Cherokee County, the figure is 22.5 percent; in Gwinnett it is 23.9 percent (these figures are from the 2010 census).

If political, civic and corporate leaders want to solve the traffic problems in Atlanta, they shouldn’t ask for more money to build roads.

Instead, spend all the transportation money we already have on repairs to roads and bridges, and improvements to other transportation infrastructure such as advanced traffic light systems.

While we take care of the transportation system we already have, our leaders can try to figure out how to improve Atlanta’s public schools. If that project is accomplished, the traffic will take care of itself.