New Study: Traffic Data Does Not Support Spending on Tesoro Extension

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Emily Rusch

Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network

Report calls California 241 plan a national example of waste, based on outdated assumptions

CALPIRG Education Fund

A new report by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund takes aim at the proposal by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) in Orange County to extend the California 241 toll road, calling the “Tesoro Extension” a national example of wasteful highway spending that threatens to crowd out more important investments. The study details how existing sections of the roadway have attracted far less traffic than forecast and led to potential debt default at the toll agency.

“Why would California prioritize spending to stop traffic congestion on a roadway where the biggest problem has been lack of traffic,” said Emily Rusch, CALPIRG Executive Director. “We can’t afford to waste $200 million on the Tesoro extension while 25 thousand California bridges remain structurally deficient and dozens of planned transit projects lack funds.”

According to the state’s California Household Travel Survey, between 2000 and 2010, walking, biking and public transportation more than doubled as a share of total travel trips, from 11 percent to 23 percent.

The report, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasteful Spending and America’s Future,” notes that there were about 32 million fewer toll transactions in fiscal year 2014 on the existing California 241 roadway than would have been expected if the trend from 2000 to 2006 had continued. Traffic levels on Route 241 in 2012 remained below 2002 levels. Planners have not yet grappled with the implications of this shift and what it means for the need to build out the “Tesoro extension.”

With limited resources dedicated to repair, California has 24,955 bridges that engineers have deemed “structurally deficient,” according to the most recent (2013) National Bridge Inventory tabulated by the Federal Highway Administration (See “All Bridges” linked here). 

“Americans have been driving less, but California and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” said Rusch. “The time has come to shift our resources to invest in 21st century priorities, like fixing our roads and bridges and providing more Americans with a wider range of transportation choices.”

The report, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasteful Spending and America’s Future,” details 11 examples across the country of wasteful highway expansions proposals justified by outmoded assumptions about driving trends contradicted by years of recent data.