Roadway construction as a natural experiment to examine air pollution impacts on infant health

2024  Journal Article

Roadway construction as a natural experiment to examine air pollution impacts on infant health


This study examines the impact of living near a roadway during and after construction on infant health. Results show an increase in term low birth weight during construction, but no consistent improvements after construction. Further research is needed to inform policy decisions regarding traffic congestion programs.


College of Health researcher(s)

OSU Profile


  • Effect of road construction on birth outcomes near roads vs further away.
  • Increased odds of term low birth weight within 300 m of ongoing construction projects.
  • No improvement in infant health outcomes after road construction projects.
  • Need for further research on infrastructure projects and local health outcomes.


Traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) poses a significant public health risk that is associated with adverse birth outcomes. Large roadway infrastructure projects present a natural experiment to examine how resulting congestion change is associated with adverse birth outcomes for nearby populations. This study is designed to examine the influence of living close to a roadway before, during, and after a construction project using a difference-in-differences design. We integrated data on all large roadway construction projects (defined as widening of existing roads, building new roads, improving bridges, installing intelligent transportation systems, improving intersections, and installing or upgrading traffic signals) in Texas from 2007 to 2016 with Vital Statistic data for all births with residential addresses within 1 km of construction projects. Our outcomes included term low birth weight, term birth weight, preterm birth, and very preterm birth. Using a difference-in-differences design, we included births within 3 years of construction start and 2 years of construction end. In our main model, the exposed group is limited to pregnant individuals residing within 300 m of a construction project, and the control group includes those living within 300–1000 m from a project. We used regression models to estimate the influence of construction on infant health. We included 1,360 large roadway construction projects linked to 408,979 births. During construction, we found that the odds of term low birth weight increased by 19% (95% CI: 1.05, 1.36). However, we saw little evidence of an association for other birth outcomes. Contrary to our hypothesis of decreased TRAP after construction ends, we did not observe consistent improvements post-construction for pregnant individuals living within 300 m. Continued consideration of the influence of traffic congestion programs on birth outcomes is necessary to inform future policy decisions.

Hill, E., Harleman, M., Harris, L., Sventek, G., Ritz, B., Campbell, E.J., Willis, M.D., Hystad, P.(2024)Roadway construction as a natural experiment to examine air pollution impacts on infant healthEnvironmental Research252