New Study Identifies Eleven Highway Boondoggles Across the Country

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Examples of wasteful highway expansion, based on outdated assumptions are slated to cost at least $13 billion

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

A new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund identifies 11 examples of wasteful highway spending that are slated to cost at least $13 billion and are based on outdated assumptions of ever-increasing driving. The study calls on the federal and state governments to reprioritize scarce transportation dollars to other projects.

“Americans have been driving less, but state and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at U.S. PIRG and a co-author of the report. “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: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” details how the 11 projects are based on driving forecasts that are out of synch with the decade-long trend toward less driving. The wasteful highway expansions include:

    • Illiana Expressway, Illinois and Indiana, $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion – A new privatized toll road proposed primarily to speed freight trucks across the Midwest may instead charge tolls too high to attract trucks, and will likely require hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.
    • Cleveland “Opportunity Corridor,” Ohio, $331 million – A new highway has been proposed for a community where driving has been stagnant for years, and where residents are calling instead for repairs to existing roads and investment in transit improvements.
    • Dallas Trinity Parkway, Texas, $1.5 billion – A nine-mile urban highway through the heart of Dallas would have a minimal impact on congestion while detracting from popular, ongoing efforts to make downtown Dallas an attractive place to live and work.
    • Double-decking I-94 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, $1.2 billion – Insisting on a wider road despite its own data showing feared traffic increases are not materializing, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation seeks to rebuild an existing highway as an eight-lane double-decker route through a narrow channel between three cemeteries, despite objections from local officials and citizen groups.

“These highway expansions are slated to receive $13 billion in taxpayer support,” said Baxandall, “but they aren’t supported by the data.”

Akshai Singh of Ohioans for Transportation Choices said, “The people of Ohio can ill afford more of the same thinking from those making our transportation investments. The Opportunity Corridor, at $100 million per mile, is costly new road capacity for a shrinking region looking for more transportation choices and ways to drive less. If DOTs nationwide invest more efficiently in maintenance and other modes of transportation, we’ll see our public dollars going a lot further than we do today.”

With limited resources dedicated to repair, The nation has over 600,000 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).

“Why should states prioritize spending on these highly questionable highway expansions while six-hundred-thousand bridges remain structurally deficient and other, more deserving projects languish without funds?” asked Baxandall.

The report can be read at this link here.

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U.S. PIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.