New report spotlights wasteful highway boondoggles in California and across the country

Media Contacts
Sander Kushen

Public Health Advocate, CALPIRG Education Fund

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

Los Angeles, Calif. —  In May of this year, the Los Angeles Metro Board of Directors voted to cancel, once and for all, a major highway expansion project that had been on the table for more than two decades. The planned addition of two new lanes along 19 miles of the I-710 freeway between Long Beach and East Los Angeles would have been devastating to the communities it slices through, requiring the demolition of homes and businesses and worsening the noise and air pollution in an area already suffering from some of the worst air quality in the country

This is not an isolated struggle. CALPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group released a new report on Thursday that exposes highway boondoggles across the country that, if completed, would not only waste billions of dollars but also worsen climate change, harm air quality and pave over homes and businesses – while serving to deepen our country’s destructive harmful dependency on cars. The report aims to push state decision-makers to reexamine proposed highway expansion projects in light of changing transportation needs.

“Every time we spend money on infrastructure, we have an opportunity to re-envision the future,” said Sander Kushen, Advocate with CALPIRG Education Fund. “We should not invest in highway boondoggles that will exacerbate our pollution and global warming problems. The projects that we choose to invest in should be ones that are going to make American lives better.”

Last November, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to repair the nation’s crumbling transportation system and invest in a modern day transportation network. The infrastructure law gives states flexibility to decide how best to spend much of the funds. Many states are choosing to press on with billions of dollars worth of highway expansion projects — even though highway expansion does not solve congestion and the money would be better spent on fixing massive repair and maintenance backlogs.

Over seven editions of Highway Boondoggle reports, CALPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group have profiled 66 highway boondoggles, defined as projects that appear to make sense but are actually wasteful and pointless. The latest edition of the report profiles seven new wasteful highway projects, slated to cost more than $22 billion in total. 

“America can’t afford to squander our historic investment in infrastructure on boondoggle projects,” said James Horrox, Policy Analyst at Frontier Group and lead author of the report. “And yet, across the country, wasteful and damaging highway expansion projects are often first in line for public dollars.”

Here are some of the boondoggles in California that we reported on in previous versions of this report, along with their current status:

Current Status Project Year in Report Project Cost
Canceled Tesoro Extension to Toll Road 241 2014 $200 million
San Gabriel Valley Route 710 tunnel 2016 $3.2 billion
High Desert Freeway 2019 $8 billion
Under Construction I-405 Improvement, Orange County 2017 $1.6 billion
U.S. Highway 101 Expansion, San Mateo 2018 $534 million

The report recommends that California cancels the 2 highway expansion projects currently under construction and instead use federal funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law to clear their highway repair backlogs and invest in public transportation.

“It’s clear, with this latest report, that state bureaucrats still have a misplaced appetite for costly, polluting and ineffective highway expansion projects,” said Kushen. “Rather than costly highway boondoggles, we need to start using our money more wisely by investing in public transit, walking and biking instead.”