New report spotlights wasteful highway boondoggles across the country

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WASHINGTON —  U.S. PIRG 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 the United States’ destructive 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 Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Environment Campaigns director. “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, U.S. PIRG 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.”

Some of the most costly expansion projects included in the report are:

  • Montgomery County M-83 highway, Maryland; $1.3 billion: A proposed highway planned since the 1960s continues to pose a direct threat to 25 residential neighborhoods, 100 acres of public forest, 14 wetlands, six streams and more than 60 acres of Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve.
  • New Jersey Turnpike & Garden State Parkway Widening Projects, New Jersey; $16 billion: A proposed 14 expansion projects on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway planned under a statewide $24 billion capital program would see the addition of hundreds of miles of new lanes to one of the busiest roads in the country, undermining New Jersey’s emissions reduction goals. 
  • Brent Spence Bridge, Ohio and Kentucky; $2.8 billion: Federal infrastructure dollars could soon enable the construction of a new ten-lane bridge across the Ohio River that threatens to exacerbate congestion at one of the country’s worst traffic bottlenecks.

The report recommends that states cancel these — and other — proposed highway expansion projects 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 Casale. “Rather than costly highway boondoggles, we need  to start using our money more wisely by investing in public transit, walking and biking instead.”

Drawing on research from the Highway Boondoggle reports, PIRG and state affiliates have succeeded in stopping wasteful highway spending and expansion: In Colorado, transportation advocates at CoPIRG and local partners scored a victory against a proposal to widen a 4.5-mile stretch of the Interstate-25 in downtown Denver. While advocates are now calling for Colorado Department of Transportation to remove the project from the long-term, 10-Year plan, the highway expansion would have sent even more cars through an already polluted, traffic-choked stretch of road while missing an opportunity to expand car-free transportation options on one of Colorado’s most important travel corridors. 

The I-25 expansion was going to be included in the seventh edition of the Highway Boondoggle report until it became clear the Denver Regional Council of Governments would shut down the plan to comply with a state mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

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