New report exposes nine wasteful highway projects across the country

Unnecessary and harmful highway boondoggles would cost $25 billion

MoPIRG Education Fund

BOSTON — Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. In the fifth edition of their Highway Boondoggles report, MoPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identify nine new wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to cost at least $25 billion collectively. Over five editions of the report, the groups have profiled 50 boondoggles.

“Every time we spend money on infrastructure, we have an opportunity to reenvision the future,” said Sam Landenwitsch, senior vice president for The Public Interest Network, of which MoPIRG Education Fund is a member. “If we’re smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars and focus instead on building a 21st-century transportation system, America can have less pollution, less gridlock and more public transit.”

In addition to identifying the nine new projects, Highway Boondoggles 5 looks back at five boondoggles profiled in previous editions. In some cases, such as the Portsmouth Bypass and Cleveland Opportunity Corridor in Ohio, states went ahead with their expansion projects. Due in part to that decision, Ohio still needs billions of dollars more to fix aging roads and adequately fund transit, even with new fees and taxes.

In other cases, states reversed course and instead dedicated money allocated to boondoggles to road repairs and public transportation. Partly as a result of PIRG Education Fund’s report and efforts of its state affiliate in Wisconsin, the state cancelled its $1 billion I-94 East-West project last year. Then-Gov. Scott Walker, a long-time supporter of laying new pavement, even admitted that evolving transportation systems are making highway-widening megaprojects less useful. However, the Wisconsin legislature is now attempting to revive this project by funding it in this year’s transportation budget.

“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.”

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

  • The LA County Freeway; California; $8 billion: In stark contrast to California’s efforts to reduce state global warming emissions, a proposed highway would lead to more driving and more pollution, along with sprawling desert development.

  • The North Houston Highway Improvement Project; Texas; $6+ billion: A massive highway project in Houston would harm communities, displace residents and destroy businesses, while sucking billions of dollars away from important transportation priorities.

  • The Tri-State Tollway Widening; Illinois; $4 billion: The Tri-State Tollway outside Chicago is testament to the fact that you can’t build your way out of congestion. It has been widened twice, and still suffers from heavy traffic. Nevertheless, the Illinois Tollway is still moving forward with a $4 billion expansion project.

The report recommends that states cancel these — and other — proposed highway expansion projects in light of changing transportation needs and instead invest in more effective solutions, such as road repair and transit expansion.  

“It’s clear, even after profiling 50 boondoggles over five editions of this report, that America still has a misplaced appetite for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Transportation Campaign director. “To solve our transportation problems — from potholes to pollution to global warming — we need to put outdated highway projects in our rearview mirror.”