Highways and population change

Paul R. Voss, Guangqing Chi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


In this paper we return to an issue often discussed in the literature regarding the relationship between highway expansion and population change. Typically it simply is assumed that this relationship is well established and understood. We argue, following a thorough review of the relevant literature, that the notion that highway expansion leads to increased population growth in the vicinity of the improved infrastructure finds only weak and often conflicting support. Using data on all major highway expansions in Wisconsin covering the period from the late-1960s through the 1990s from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), and census data at the minor civil division (MCD) level covering the period 1970 to 2000, we deploy the analytical tools of geographic information system (GIS) software, and theory from the expanding literature in spatial analysis and modeling, to take a fresh look at this relationship. Our analysis reveals that there is a modest relationship between highway expansion and population growth among MCDs within 10-20 miles of the expanded major highway. The causal structure, however, is complex. Our starting hypothesis argues that population growth precedes highway expansion as frequently as population growth results from highway expansion, but the data show otherwise. The dominant causal influence appears to flow from highway expansion to population growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-58
Number of pages26
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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