Demographic Response to Transportation Innovation: The Case of the Interstate Highway

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  • Demographic Response to Transportation Innovation: The Case of the Interstate HighwayAuthor(s): Daniel T. Lichter and Glenn V. FuguittSource: Social Forces, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Dec., 1980), pp. 492-512Published by: Oxford University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 15:20

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  • Demographic Response to Transportation Innovation: The Case of the Interstate Highway

    D A N I E L T. L I C H T E R, University of Wisconsin, Madison G L E N N V. F U G U I T T, University of Wisconsin, Madison

    ABSTRACT The development of a system of interstate highways in the U.S. has re-

    kindled an interest in demographic responses to transportation innovation. In this paper we examine the relationship between date of completion of an inter- state highway and changes in nonmetropolitan county population and employ- ment characteristics during three time periods, 1950-60, 1960-70, and 1970- 75. We also attempt to explicate the underlying process by which access to a modern highway affects growth or net migration. This is accomplished by decomposing the association between presence of a highway and net migration into direct and indirect (through industrial employment change) components. Results indicate that interstate counties consistently maintained an advantage over noninterstate counties in net migration, proportion experiencing net im- migration (or a turnaround in net migration), and employment growth. Data also suggest that the positive effect of highways on net migration was most in evidence in less remote areas and that it operated largely by promoting employ- ment change in service employment-both nonlocal and tourist-related. There is little evidence that the demographic effect of highways proceeded through expanded manufacturing which, in turn, promoted inmigration.

    Innovation in modes of transportation has long been recognized as an important stimulus of societal change, with consequences for the spatial

    *This research has been supported by the Economic Development Division, Economics, Sta- tistics, and Cooperatives Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, through a cooperative agreement. Analysis was aided by a Center for Population Research Grant (HD05876), to the Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, from the Center for Population Research of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We also express our appreciation to Tim B. Heaton for his assistance in assembling the data.

    ? 1980 The University of North Carolina Press. 0037-7732/80/020492-12$02.10


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  • Highways & Demographic Changes / 493

    organization of society and general patterns of population redistribution (Hawley; McKenzie; Weber; Yeates and Garner). During the nineteenth century, the penetration of railroads into America's heartland promoted the spread of population to previously remote areas. Equally significant is the nodal growth that was stimulated as settlements sprang up at intermit- tent points along railroad routes. The friction of space has been further reduced during this century with the advent of the motor vehicle and surfaced roads. As roadways have penetrated the landscape and heightened the accessibility of places through a restructuring of time-cost distance, the possibility of dispersal of population and economic activity has been in- creased considerably. Particularly significant, for example, has been the part played by motor transport in the territorial expansion of the range of daily activities within metropolitan areas (Hawley; Tobin). Also, the func- tional interdependence and exchange among places, and between market centers and their hinterlands has been greatly enlarged (Garrison; Hawley; McKenzie). This has undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of an inte- grated national economic system.

    The authorization by Congress during the mid-1950s for the develop- ment of a system of limited access highways linking major U.S. cities has served to renew our interest in the effects of transportation innovation on patterns of economic activity and population growth. At least superficially, such a system of highways appears to have considerable potential for channeling growth in nonmetropolitan areas. Indeed, this possibility has spawned a number of empirical studies (e.g., Fuguitt and Beale; Hansen; Lee et al.; Malin; Ringenberg and Fuguitt) and policy-oriented discussions related to this topic (e.g., Ballangee; Deakin). To date, however, evidence of a growth-inducing effect is equivocal. As will become apparent in the following section, this stems in large measure from (1) the regional or case study design adopted in many studies; (2) the failure to adequately link date of completion of a highway with subsequent growth for more than one period of time; (3) the failure to adequately control other variables that impinge on the relationship between highways and growth; and (4) the failure to specify a system of relationships among economic growth, popu- lation change, and accessibility to a controlled access highway. The present paper is a comprehensive attempt to overcome these limitations. We ex- amine the relationship between date of completion of an interstate highway and changes in nonmetropolitan county population and employment char- acteristics during three time periods, 1950-60, 1960-70, and 1970-75. In addition, we attempt to explicate the underlying mechanisms by which access to a major highway impacts growth or net migration. This is accom- plished by decomposing the association between presence of a highway and net migration into direct and indirect (through industrial employment change) components. Such an analysis should enhance our understanding

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  • 494 / Social Forces Volume 59:2, December 1980

    of the dynamics of the linkage between highway location and growth in nonmetropolitan areas.

    Previous Research

    Although highway transportation is not generally regarded as a sufficient condition for economic development, most view it as a necessary factor for contemporary economic growth (Dickinson; Gauthier; Grossman and Levin; Hansen; Shafran and Wegman). Highways serve to alter the time- space ratio and the per unit cost of transportation, thereby facilitating the decentralization of industry, the expansion of trade areas, and the growth of the physical flow of people through an area. Hence the effect of high- ways on population growth can be regarded as an outcome of changes in industrial employment and improved economic conditions resulting from location on an interstate highway. Recently, a number of studies (e.g., Frisbie and Poston; Shin; Sly) have adopted a human ecological framework that conceptualizes population growth or decline as a response to adaptive shifts in sustenance organization-shifts presumably necessitated by a changing technology and environment. In this tradition, the development of a major highway network can be viewed as giving impetus to fundamen- tal changes in the sustenance organization or economic activity in nonmet- ropolitan areas, resulting in a demographic response, namely inmigration.

    Proximity to a modern highway improves access to markets, resource inputs, and labor-each an important consideration in industrial location decisions. Indeed, an efficient network of highways plays a "vital role" in linking industrial plants with the rest of the economy (Smith). Conse- quently, it is not surprising that good highway transportation is often regarded as a major factor in the decision of firms to locate in a given area (Connelly and Meiburg; Kiley; Smith; Wheat b, c). Not only are highways thought to be important in attracting new industry, but also in encouraging the expansion of existing firms (Grossman and Levin; Kuehn and West). Therefore, it is expected that employment growth in manufacturing is related to accessibility to an interstate highway. Previous empirical research has yielded rather inconclusive results. For example, Wheat (a) compared manufacturing growth rates in U.S. interstate and noninterstate cities and discovered that the effect of interstate highways existed only east of the Mississippi River and on the West Coast. Till found that the county rate of change in manufacturing employment in the South was unrelated to pres- ence of an interstate highway for the period 1959-69, net of the effects of size of the largest place in the county and distance to nearest SMSA central city. In an analysis of the relationship between highways and economic development in the Ozarks, Kuehn and West report that highways were a

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  • Highways & Demographic Changes / 495

    positive, but not a major factor, accounting for variations in manufacturing employment. They conclude that the presence of highways is not a suffi- cient condition for economic development in the Ozarks region. Thus, despite a solid theoretical foundation, we lack conclusive findings on the positive impact of highways on industrial development.

    Because the accessibility of a place is improved as a result of being located on a major highway, the "range of a good" is also expected to increase. Improved highway transportation serves to reduce the functional distance between goods and services and the consumers of those goods and services. That is, better highways enable individuals to reduce the time and cost of travel between places. Or, as stated by Hawley, "(i)mprove- ments in transportation ... permit a wider scatter of an interrelated popu- lation without loss of contact" (237). Consequently, it is anticipated that the marketing area of places located on an interstate highway will be enlarged, with implications for growth in basic trade and service employment. This inference appears to have at least some empirical support from previous studies. For example, Frey et al. found that highways were related to growth in retail trade, but there was little growth in wholesale trade and transportation-related establishments. Highway mileage also has been dis- covered to be positively correlated with level of trade and service employ- ment in the Ozarks region (Kuehn and West).

    Finally, counties located on interstate highways are expected to ex- perience employment growth in personal services needed to accommodate increased volumes of travellers or tourists through the area. An increased volume of expenditures for items as motel lodging and meals appears to be a direct consequence of the growth of traffic (Gamble et al.). Also, highways make remote recreational and amenity areas more accessible, perhaps in- ducing growth in tourist-related industry in such areas (Kuehn and West). An increase in service stations and lodging units has been noted in places located on a major highway (Frey et al.).

    The preceding discussion suggests that interstate highways have a growth-inducing effect on employment in manufacturing, commercial activity, and tourist-related services. This argument implies that the effect of highways on net migration is mediated by employment change. Further- more, the direction of causality is assumed to be from highways to net migration, rather than the reverse. This argument has been forcefully made by Wheat (c). He argues that the manifest function of the interstate highway system is to link major U.S. cities (with routes as direct as possible) without regard to the rapidity of growth in intervening localities. Others are less certain about causal direction, suggesting that interstate highways may have followed growth in that they were probably constructed along exist- ing transportation corridors (Fuguitt, b; Fuguitt and Beale). Neither expla- nation is necessarily inconsistent with the other. Certainly, it is plausible

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  • 496 / Social Forces Volume 59:2, December 1980

    that growth begets an interstate highway which, subsequently, contributes to additional growth.

    Most empirical research has assumed, implicitly or explicitly, that highways ultimately contribute to population growth. Indeed, most bivari- ate examinations indicate that highways are positively related to population growth (e.g., Frey et al., Malin, 1971; Wheat, c). But the failure in each study to control for the effects of salient ecological factors, such as size or distance to metropolitan center, renders causal interpretation tenuous, at best. Studies employing more elaborate multivariate statistical techniques, in which relevant ecological variables are included in the analysis, have yielded mixed results. For example, some studies report a positive effect of highways on growth or net migration (Humphrey and Sell; Irwin), even after other variables such as size of largest place or initial population size are controlled. However, in a study of minor civil divisions in Pennsylvania, Humphrey et al. note an insignificant relationship between proximity to a limited access highway and migration turnaround, once other demographic and ecological factors were taken into account. Although Hansen found that counties that were fast gainers were the closest to highways, much of the difference could be accounted for by proximity to metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, within counties adjacent to an SMSA, a highway effect was still apparent, but was less in evi...


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