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Highway investment in British Columbia, 1946-71 : a study of the spatial distribution of investment and an assessment of its impact on the highway network Townsend, Don Frank

Abstract

The subject of this study is road investment in B.C. made through the Provincial Department of Highways in the years 19^6-71, The pattern of investment is described and is used to indicate policies and objectives being evolved over the period. An effort is also made to evaluate the impact of the investment in terms of the benefit to certain classes of road users. Data on investment were gathered from the Annual Reports of the Minister, and assembled according to area, item, time period and class of road. The nature of investment has been given close attention because it is felt that its role has been somewhat overlooked in the previous studies of the relationship between transport infrastructure and economic activity. That relationship has usually been treated in summary form, with highly generalized indices. There is an attempt in this study to find a rationale of spending to explain the variations between areas, and from which to draw inferences about policies. This leads on to closer examination of the trunk network. Some structural measures of improvement in the network were calculated, but were not very helpful. This study argues that the improvement has to be valued by some user before it is translated into increased accessibility and responses amongst economic activities. Because improvements mean different things to different users and non-users, different approaches to evaluation have to he taken. A large truck is chosen for the case of B.C., and operating costs are simulated for the roads existing in 1952, 1962 and 1971. The changes in truck operating costs are used to explore the meanings of ˈimprovementˈ and the ˈjustificationˈ of certain investments. An estimate of annual savings to trucks from road improvements is derived from the simulated costs. The approach through investment is found to aid understanding of route and network development. It provides criteria by which to evaluate other aspects of road development, such as the road needs of certain populations, and the effects of external connections and through paths. It reveals the highly variable per mile cost of links, and emphasizes the interdependence of different types of spending. It suggests a relationship between inter-urban and local spending and traffic, which should be worth following up in other situations. Among other things, it is discovered that there has been a tendency to spend an increasing proportion on the branch or feeder roads. In the last few years, there has been an increasing concentration on urban or near-urban roads for the relief of congestion. The purposes of roads and routes are seen to change over time. The pattern of spending has been much affected by the difficulty of road construction in B.C. Increases in election years have stood out markedly. These have ˈcostˈ the Province a significant amount through inflated contract prices. Some suggestions are made on how over-the-road savings could make their way through to freight rates, schedules and services, and thus affect the client economic activities. The estimate of annual savings of $15-20 million to large trucks is a conservative and partial measure of benefit. The aim was not a definitive measure of improvement and partial benefit, but to use the measure in different contexts and reveal the different meanings and quantities of improvement. Different ˈjustificationsˈ for link investment were provided from different perspectives. The interdependence of links and of investment allocations in the total system was emphasized. It is the main strength of this modified network perspective that it allows the simultaneous consideration of flows, structure, link importance and nodal accessibility.

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