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SERC/Urban and Spatial Programme Discussion Paper

The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities


We investigate the relationship between interstate highways and highway vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) in US cities. We find that VKT increases proportionately to highways and identify three important sources for this extra VKT: an increase in driving by current residents; an increase in transportation intensive production activity; and an inflow of new residents. The provision of public transportation has no impact on VKT. We also estimate the aggregate city level demand for VKT and find it to be very elastic. We conclude that an increased provision of roads or public transit is unlikely to relieve congestion and that the current provision of roads exceeds the optimum given the absence of congestion pricing.


Gilles Duranton and Matthew A. Turner

October 2009     Paper Number SERCDP0030

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