New report highlights wasteful U.S. highway boondoggles, including one in Oregon

Portland, OR– OSPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group released Highway Boondoggles 8: Doubling down on wasteful, destructive highway projects on Thursday. The newest edition of this annual report calls on decision-makers, including those here in Oregon, to reexamine a number of proposed highway projects in light of the damage that new or expanded highways do to the communities around them. If these boondoggles proceed, these projects would waste billions of taxpayer dollars, increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and disrupt communities – while at the same time failing to reduce congestion.

This year’s list of costly expansion projects includes the Interstate Bridge Replacement,here in Oregon. The project is not simply the replacement of a bridge, but rather a major freeway expansion that would almost double the size of the existing bridge while also rebuilding several freeway interchanges in Portland and Vancouver. 

“Government spending should improve our quality of life, said Charlie Fisher, OSPIRG Foundation, State Director “Yet these projects will squander billions while increasing pollution and failing to reduce congestion. That is the definition of a boondoggle.”

Over eight editions of Highway Boondoggle reports, U.S. PIRG Education Fund (OSPIRG Foundation’s national partner) and Frontier Group have profiled 73 highway boondoggles – road projects that are wasteful, unnecessary and harmful to the environment and local communities. The latest edition profiles seven new projects – some of which have been given new momentum by funds provided through the 2021 infrastructure law — slated to cost at least $16 billion in total. 

“With more funding available than ever before for transportation, America has a unique opportunity to fix the problems caused by a century of car-centric transportation planning,” said James Horrox, policy analyst at Frontier Group and lead author of the report. “Instead, transportation authorities are in many cases repeating the misguided policies of the past and accelerating wasteful and damaging highway projects.”

The report recommends that states reconsider 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 and infrastructure conducive to other, more sustainable modes of transportation such as biking and walking.

“For decades, we’ve wasted money on more highway lanes, yet traffic has only gotten worse. It’s time to transform transportation,” said Fisher. “To improve Oregonians’ health and quality of life, we should be investing in proven solutions including public transit and more walkable and bikeable cities and towns — not going down the same policy roads to more dead ends.