New Study Shows Traffic Data Fails to Support Spending on I-26 Connector

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Report calls I-26 Connector plan an example of waste, based on outdated assumptions

NCPIRG Education Fund

A new national report calls the I-26 Connector project one of 11 examples of wasteful highway spending, based on its outdated assumptions of ever-increasing driving and lack of receptivity to community concerns. The study, which details ten other highway “boondoggles” across the country, points to data showing that a doubling of lanes is not necessary and that traffic on the route has not been clearly increasing. The study calls for the state to consider reprioritizing scarce transportation dollars to other projects.

North Carolina officials have proposed expanding I-240, which runs through downtown Asheville and connects I-26 southwest of Asheville to other highway routes northwest of the city. 179 local residents, however, have questioned whether the project as currently designed would damage an established vibrant neighborhood just to build road space that is not actually needed.

“Americans have been driving less, but North Carolina and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” said Phineas Baxandall, a co-author of the report. “The time has come to shift 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: Wasteful Money and America’s Transportation Future,” notes that the $400 million to $600 million in funds for expanding to eight lanes instead of six would save travelers less than ten seconds in travel time. The project is based on the presumption that traffic volume will be increasing, but state data show a lack of traffic increases along the route.

With limited resources dedicated to repair, North Carolina has 18,168 bridges that inspectors 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 North Carolina prioritize spending on widening highways more than is needed while 18 thousand bridges remain structurally deficient and other more deserving projects are ignored?” asked Baxandall.

The report can be read here.

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