They are Going to Close My Median Access – Help Me Stop Them!

By Mike Spack, PE, PTOE

I get several calls a year from lawyers who want me to fight for their client.  The government is going to close a median, their driveway, or cut-off their access in some other way.  Usually, I can’t help the lawyer in these cases because the government has the right to do this (what they need is an appraiser to determine if it will damage the parcel and how much).

Occasionally there is a viable alternative to reducing the access.  These are fun projects for us to work on because they take creativity and solid engineering analyses.

It is well documented that limiting access on arterial roadways reduces crashes and improves the throughput of the arterial.  Access management is usually a good deal for society, although it can push crash problems to the local network if there isn’t a robust collector network to support the increased traffic from the arterial’s access management.

And of course, access management negatively affects individual businesses and property owners.  At least that’s what they and their lawyers usually say when confronted with a proposal to limit their access.

I was excited to see a presentation several years ago by David Plazak, currently at the Transportation Research Board, who conducted intersecting research on the economics of access management while he was at Iowa State University.  To summarize his findings:

  • Limiting access during construction does hurt business operations.
  • After construction:
    • About 5% of the businesses studied didn’t rebound.
    • About 35% of the businesses wouldn’t/couldn’t say if they were up or down.
    • About 25% of the businesses were about the same as before.
    • About 35% saw business increase!
  • Businesses along access controlled roads are more profitable than comparable businesses on less access controlled roads.
  • Tenant turnover is less along access controlled roads than comparable businesses on less access controlled roads.
  • Redevelopment typically goes to a “better and higher use” along access controlled arterials – small commercial/retail is usually replaced with taller office buildings.  The office buildings then support nearby restaurants and gas stations.
  • The logic behind the overall economic improvement – Even though it may take several hundred extra feet to get into the business, people’s overall trips are shorter because the arterial is moving so much better.  Also, by having better throughput you are expanding the geographical range of your customers base (they care about how long it takes to get to the business, not how far it is).

I did some digging around Mr. Plazak’s research and it is a little dated and it also isn’t as comprehensive as I’d like.  A good lawyer with a few days of time could certainly poke some holes in his overarching conclusions.

My take away is that, yes, an individual business may be hurt by access management and deserves compensation for that “taking,” but no, it doesn’t mean reasonable access management isn’t in society’s best interest or the overall value of the parcel.


Mike Spack

  • rae says:

    cool interesting article. I would tend to agree as motorists adjust once sufficient product definition attraction exists

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