“Tri-State Tollway Widening” makes national list of highway boondoggles

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

Two previous widenings have already failed to reduce congestion

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Tri-State Tollway in the western Chicago suburbs is a testament to the fact that you can’t build your way out of congestion. But even after two previous widening projects failed to relieve congestion, the Illinois Tollway is still planning to spend $4 billion to widen the road from four lanes in each direction to five — and in some places six — lanes. According to a new report from Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, these efforts will once again fail to alleviate traffic.

“In the Chicago area, new and expanded highways have failed again and again to relieve congestion,” said Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG Education Fund director. “As Chicago builds a transportation system of the future, there is no reason to think that applying the same flawed logic to the same transportation problems will work this time.”

Since 1996, more than 1,000 miles of new highway lanes have been added in and around Chicago. These projects — and all the asphalt that comes with them — have contributed to worsening traffic and more sprawl, while displacing homes and businesses, and increasing air pollution. According to Highway Boondoggles 5, the new Tri-State Tollway widening will continue these trends, all while wasting valuable transportation resources that would be better spent on public transit, walk and bike infrastructure, and road repair.

“Sometimes it’s the infrastructure we don’t build that makes all the difference,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. “Cities from Dallas to Tampa to Milwaukee have discovered that ditching boondoggle highway projects has opened up new opportunities to build stronger, cleaner and more fiscally sustainable communities.”

The report recommends that Illinois cancel the Tri-State Tollway and other proposed highway projects, and instead invest in more effective transportation solutions, such as road repair and transit expansion.  

“Illinois, like the rest of America, still has a misplaced appetite for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects. But if we’re smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars, we can achieve a more sustainable, affordable and better-functioning transportation system,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Transportation Campaign director. “That means avoiding spending billions of dollars on harmful, wasteful projects such as Tri-State Tollway Widening.”