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rural road networks, alternative road systems


The network of roads within any defined region is necessarily connected to the network of each adjacent region. Therefore, sections of road which might be added to, or deleted from, the existing network can result in changes in consumers' travel and routing and their use of the remaining network. This can result in significant changes in the costs and benefits of the network for consumers and major changes in the cost of supplying the road network services. The study of the adequacy of a rural road network is therefore necessarily a study of a complex, interdependent system. Consideration of the adequacy of a network of rural roads requires an initial definition of the concept of adequacy. To economists, the definition must incorporate the wishes of consumers for the services made available by alternative road systems and those consumers' willingness and ability to pay. These make up the demand side of the economist's model. The supply side of the model must consider the costs of providing the alternative road system's services. To consider some methods of studying the adequacy of such a rural road network, an initial analysis was carried out using the rural road network in a single township. A township was selected which contained no commercial centers and no major state or federal highways. The township's road network layout was a one square mile grid pattern. The township choice was made to minimize the number of factors which would complicate the study when examining the impacts of alternative road system changes on users and providers. With no major through roads or commercial centers in the township, the road network was used primarily by residents. The residents could be identified and surveyed concerning their use of, and opinions about, the network. Most nonresident traffic such as farm supply, school bus, and postal service road users which served residents could also be included in the study. Some nonresident road users, such as seasonal hunters, could not be identified and surveyed. In South Dakota, county or township government is required to provide at least one access road for each farm in the township. A lightly used mile of road serving a farm cannot be eliminated from the network unless an alternative access road is available. While the number of farms has decreased over the long term, the actual choice of farms abandoned has been the outcome of a random process of retirement, bankruptcy, merger, and sale. Therefore, this legal constraint makes it difficult for township or county government to undertake long term planning for the restructuring of the rural road network. Any road system restructuring will either be a passive response to the privately made choices about farm location and abandonment, or an active use of governmental efforts to influence these location decisions. In either case, any restructuring will be the result of a lengthy evolution rather than a well planned design to meet forseeable needs.


Economics Research Report No. 92-5