A threat to federal climate investment: Highway boondoggles

Too many states are using federal infrastructure funding to double down on wasteful, harmful highway construction and expansion.

Highway interchange
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If the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package was meant to serve as an off-ramp from past transportation mistakes, then far too many states are missing the exit. Instead, they’re using federal dollars to double down on wasteful, harmful highway construction and expansion.

That’s the main message of PIRG and Frontier Group’s latest Highway Boondoggles report.

Highway Boondoggles 8 spotlights seven highway projects—including some receiving federal infrastructure funds—that likely won’t reduce congestion or improve safety, will damage communities and the environment, and together will cost $15.9 billion.

Click to view our interactive map or search our user-friendly database to learn more about specific highway boondoggles.
Since the boondoggle projects featured in our first report attracted widespread media attention back in 2014, Highway Boondoggles has helped shift the politics of American transportation in a more sensible, sustainable direction.

Most importantly, eight highway boondoggles our series has called attention to have ceased moving forward. The term “boondoggle” itself has come back into vogue as shorthand for outrageously costly highway projects that underdeliver on their intended benefits while threatening the well-being of our communities and environment.

And while “build more roads now, ask questions later” is still the prevailing mindset, our reports have helped elevate a “fix it first” approach, prioritizing repair of existing roads that need it, as well as the need to invest in transportation solutions that reduce our fossil fuel dependence. We saw it as a major sign of progress when the Biden administration expressed its preference that the historic transportation funds made available to states via the federal infrastructure law go toward repair and maintenance, rather than highway construction and expansion.

But this year’s report shows that our work is far from done.

State departments of transportation and legislatures have broad discretion when it comes to how federal infrastructure formula funds are spent. In too many cases, they are using that discretion to support new boondoggles and even revive old ones.

Highway Boondoggles 8 finds that of the 20 largest projects supported by formula funds in the federal infrastructure law’s first full year, at least 17 include the widening of existing highways, and most include the construction of new associated infrastructure such as interchanges, ramps and roundabouts.

As in years past, our report identifies the most egregious current examples of misguided investment, where new or wider highways will likely perpetuate, rather than alleviate, traffic while further segmenting and polluting our communities. This year, Streetsblog USA published standalone pieces for each boondoggle-in-progress:

Using research, media outreach, and more, PIRG’s network of state organizations and national team will continue holding decision makers accountable and making our case to them and the public for a less wasteful and car-centric transportation system.


Andre Delattre

Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Program, The Public Interest Network

Andre directs The Public Interest Network's national campaign staff and programs. His previous roles include national organizing director of the Student PIRGs and executive director of PIRG. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter, and is an avid cyclist and chess player.