Reader Forum: The Sprawl Tax

Oregon Business readers respond to The Sprawl Tax.

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“Joe, I must object to your notion of a sprawl tax. Really, you are just talking about the cost of commuting; if you traverse larger commuting distances, your costs are higher. A tax would imply you are paying it to receive the use of some public service/asset (e.g., a gas tax to fund road construction, a toll to cross a bridge).

The real tax associated with sprawl involves road and infrastructure development that must be made to support neighborhoods in formerly rural areas. As individuals in Dallas, Atlanta and other cities move further out from an urban/suburban core, communities are forced to build new highways and infrastructure; frequently, these costs are born by the very community they just left.

For example, as Portland’s suburbs have grown, the city is still responsible for ensuring people can transit downtown and through the City. Luckily for Portland, the urban core continues to grow rapidly to fund additional infrastructure needs. But many cities (Detroit, Baltimore, St Louis …) that are seeing their urban core decline in resources still need to pay for infrastructure maintenance, while their regional and state transportation dollars are increasingly funding exurb and suburban roads.

As a result, these cities are increasingly pinched for infrastructure funds. So a real ‘sprawl tax’ is the government taxes closer-in/urban core residents & businesses pay to support sprawl’s infrastructure. In Oregon, this tax is thankfully limited due to urban growth boundaries versus other states where sprawl happens easily.”
— Michael

“How about commute times? If the commute is slower (thinking the 12 block run up SW Clay to get to Hwy 26 now runs 45 min to 1 hour), there is a time cost and a fuel cost. It is not just miles travelled. Are Portland commutes as fast as these other cities?

A further cost, is with density, Portland thinks they can mitigate the traffic problem with trains and streetcars. This is billions of dollars of cost up front, and a continuing payroll tax (gen. fund for PDX streetcar) running now a significant $300 million plus each year. Are these other cities charging each worker several hundred dollars to run a transit system like Portland, that carries relatively small numbers of commuters?”
— Richard Leonetti