"Highway construction has been a key factor creating sprawl in Maryland. Data shows that highways were built not so much to serve the needs of existing communities and alleviate traffic for a stable population, but rather have allowed migration outward from the cities. They have been the cause of sprawl more than a solution to congestion."
This is one of the conclusions outlined in a report released by the MaryPIRG Foundation in November of 2000 which analyzed the relationship between highway construction and new development in several areas in Maryland, including Baltimore, Frederick, and Anne Arundel counties, as well as the Eastern Shore. This analysis of both residential and commercial development demonstrated that highways were not built where people already lived and worked. Rather, people moved to where the highways were built. Accordingly, it is the next logical step to conclude that, without the construction of the highways, less development would have been drawn outward from the cities into outlying regions, including areas like Harford County.
The report also noted that research on a national level has shown that construction of new highways and widening of existing highways increases development in previously undeveloped areas. Increased development results from highway construction for several reasons: 1) it provides greater access to undeveloped areas; 2) increases the value of land near those highways (in some areas by an average of $10,000 per acre within one mile of the highway); and, 3) increases our dependence upon automobile transportation. This reliance on automobiles adversely affects air quality, decreases open space and causes a loss of the sense of community, as commuters spend more time in their cars and less time in their neighborhoods.
There are current plans and proposals in Maryland to widen major highways, including Interstate 95 through Harford County. This plan should be analyzed in light of the findings noted in the MaryPIRG report. Harford County plans to direct development into the Perryman peninsula which is relatively undeveloped at this time and environmentally sensitive given its proximity to the Bay. The Perryman peninsula is important as home to the well-heads which are the source of a significant amount of the countyís water supply (see related article on the proposed airport expansion). This highway expansion should be carefully critiqued to see if it is really in accord with the principles of "Smart Growth", which seeks to bring new development to existing communities and population centers, as opposed to bringing more population and development to undeveloped areas. As the reportís author noted:
"If state and county planners are serious about curbing sprawl,they must reduce their emphasis on constructing new and wider highways in a futile attempt to relieve traffic congestion and a misguided effort to serve sprawling development in Marylandís outer areas. ...They must focus on providing efficient and affordable public transit and steer new development into communities where people can accomplish at least some of their work, shopping, entertainment, and school trips through walking, bicycling, and transit, rather than being forced by sprawling land use patterns to rely solelyon their cars."
(The full text of the report is available here).