New research looks at how much New Jersey could save through smarter road investments

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Earlier this year, Smart Growth America released a new model for analyzing the fiscal implications of development patterns. Since then we’ve analyzed development in Madison, WI, West Des Moines, IA, and Macon, GA.

For the latest installment, Smart Growth America teamed up with New Jersey Future to find out how much state, county and municipal governments in New Jersey could save on road maintenance bills by building in more compact ways.

The Fiscal Implications of Development Patterns: Roads in New Jersey analyzes population and employment density to understand just how much money could be saved if the distribution of New Jersey’s population and jobs could be made even incrementally more dense and compact.

Researchers at Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future took two distinct but related approaches to these questions. Smart Growth America partitioned the whole state into grid cells of equal size and then compiled data for each cell. Using U.S. Census data regarding population and employment, and the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s database of road segments, Smart Growth America’s researchers calculated the relationship between density and the road area per capita.

New Jersey Future analyzed road area per capita based on municipalities rather than grid cells, and used population and employment data to calculate “net activity density” for each municipality, defined as population plus employment divided by developed square miles. Municipalities with high net activity densities and low road area per capita are getting the best possible return on their investments, in terms of the number of people served by each acre of pavement. The report includes a full list.

The analysis concludes that a) local road maintenance costs per capita decrease as activity density increases, and b) the greatest potential cost savings can be realized by the lowest-density communities. For example, if a rural community were able to increase its activity density from two people per acre to four people per acre, it would see much greater cost savings than would a municipality that increased its activity density from 20 to 40 people per acre. Statewide, the report concludes, savings on road maintenance could reach $470 million per year.

Both analyses make clear the long-term road-infrastructure cost implications of various land-use decisions. Leaders at both the state and municipal levels in New Jersey — and elsewhere — can use these findings to make better-informed decisions about development patterns moving forward.

Smart Growth America is always working to help towns and cities better understand the impacts of their development choices. If you want to conduct this analysis in community, contact us to learn about our consulting services.