Relating Transportation Quality Indicators to Economic Conditions in the South-Central U.S.

Relating Transportation Quality Indicators to Economic Conditions in the South-Central U.S.

Jonathan C. Comer (Oklahoma State University, USA), Amy K. Graham (Oklahoma State University, USA) and Stacey R. Brown (Oklahoma State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0882-5.ch710
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Investment in transportation infrastructure is widely assumed to spur economic growth, a belief that persists among both the general public and government officials. However, research has provided inconsistent evidence to date, and many researchers believe that good transportation is a necessary but insufficient condition for regional growth. This study examines the issue from a different perspective than the majority of past research, using spatial regression techniques to explore the relationship between transportation quality and regional economic development at an intermediate spatial resolution. Using federal highway statistics on pavement roughness and bridge quality, this research examines the relationship between measurable results of transportation spending, as evidenced by better quality roads and bridges, and various indicators of economic health. This relationship is examined in the South-Central U.S. (Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) at the county level and uncovers moderate to weak regression coefficients overall but with notable spatial variations across the study area.
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Motivation And Study Area

This research was spurred by questions about how the overall transportation inventory of an area influences its economic development. It was part of a larger project funded by an Oklahoma Transportation Center (OTC) grant that sought to measure Oklahoma’s comparative transportation advantages with respect to its neighbors. This paper specifically evaluates linkages between economic development and transportation infrastructure with a goal of assessing the strength and spatial variation of the relationship between highway conditions and socioeconomic indicators across Oklahoma and three of its neighbors, Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas (Figure 1). These three states are included because they are more integrated and connected to Oklahoma via their long shared borders, enjoy relatively swift and smooth transportation routes between their major cities, and possess a strong degree of regional integration, traits that Oklahoma’s other three neighbors, Colorado, Missouri, and New Mexico, do not exhibit to nearly the same degree.

Figure 1.

Study area and major highways


In light of the fact that just $27 billion of the $787 billion “stimulus package” of 2009 was allocated to transportation projects (AASHTO, 2009) and the fact that many state governments have spent that money disproportionately in rural areas to satisfy constituents (Cooper & Palmer, 2009), this research is particularly timely given the heavily rural nature of the study area. Past research (Comer & Finchum, 2001, 2004, 2006) has demonstrated that highways are often the lifeblood of many small towns in Oklahoma, and the improvement, replacement, or deterioration of such routes can have critical consequences.

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