Environmental and economic consequences of permanent roadway infrastructure commitment: City road network lifecycle assessment and Los Angeles County

Andrew Fraser, Mikhail Chester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The environmental impacts and economic costs associated with passenger transportation are the result of complex interactions between people, infrastructure, urban form, and underlying activities. When it comes to roadway infrastructure, the ongoing resource commitments (which can be measured as embedded impacts) enables vehicle travel, which is a dominant source of air emissions in regional inventories. The relationship between infrastructure and the environmental impacts it enables are not often considered dynamic. Furthermore, the environmental effects of roadway infrastructure are typically assessed at a fine geospatial and temporal scale (i.e., a short distance of roadway over a short period of time) and there is generally poor knowledge of how the growth of a roadway network over time creates a need for long-term maintenance commitments that create environmental impacts and lock-in vehicle travel. A framework and operational lifecycle assessment (LCA) tool [City Road Network (CiRN) LCA] are developed to assess the extent to which roadway commitments result in ongoing and increasing environmental and economic impacts. Known for its extensive road network and automobile reliance, Los Angeles County is used as a case study to explore the relationship between historic infrastructure deployment decisions and the emergent behavior of vehicle travel. The results show that every kilogram of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from construction and maintenance has led to 27 kg of GHG emissions in fuel combustion. Similarly, every public dollar invested into the network has created $21-$46 in private user spending. As states and regions grapple with financing the upkeep of aging infrastructure, a solid understanding of the relationship between upfront infrastructure capital costs, long-term maintenance costs, and associated long-term environmental effects are critical. In Los Angeles, the infrastructure that exists was largely deployed by 1987. Since then, maintenance costs are estimated to have exceeded city budgets despite minimal growth in infrastructure. The research demonstrates how infrastructure matures (i.e., its stages of growth toward completion), it becomes locked-in, leading to transitions from a capital financing focus to foci on securing rehabilitation and maintenance costs, and the share of environmental impacts changing from being somewhat balanced between embedded infrastructure construction impacts and vehicle use to today where vehicle use creates impacts several orders of magnitude greater than those associated with rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number04015018
JournalJournal of Infrastructure Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Environmental issues
  • Lifecycle assessment
  • Pavement management
  • Sustainable development
  • Transportation engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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