Texas Interstate 35 Expansion Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Will Cost $8 Billion

Media Contacts
Bay Scoggin

New Report Identifies Nine Highway Boondoggles Across the Country

TexPIRG Education Fund

AUSTIN– A new report by TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $30 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed “Interstate 35 Expansion” in Austin, Texas being pushed by local officials. In total, the plan would cost $8.1 billion to add four new lanes to I-35 through Austin.

“I drive every week on I35, I know it’s bad, but we need to solve our transportation problems with solutions that work, not waste money on the type of highway projects that should be in our rearview mirror,” said Bay Scoggin, director of TexPIRG Education Fund. 

The report finds that previous road expansions in Texas have failed at reducing congestion and this expansion is no different. “Look to the Katy Freeway project in Houston,” said Scoggin. “Widening the highway to 26 lanes failed to improve congestion and actually worsened travel times.”

The report finds that the new lanes would not only hinder Austin’s recent vision for limiting sprawl and promoting alternative transportation choices, but would also push the state to greater debt. As of 2015, Texas owed $29.1 billion in highway debt, 30 times more than it owed in 2000, making it the second-most in the country. And in 2014, Texas paid $4.8 billion just to service its debt, 90 times more than in 2000.

“From 2008 to 2015, state highway debt more than doubled to $217 billion,” said Gideon Weissman, a Frontier Group analyst and report co-author. “We keep building new highways we don’t need, and that hurts our ability to move toward a smart 21st century transportation system that works for all of us.”

The report recommends that the state reexamine the proposed highway expansion project in light of changing transportation needs and instead invest in transportation solutions, like road repair and transit expansion, that reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects. 

“We need to be smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars. Now and in the future, Texas should have less pollution, less gridlock and more public transit,” said Scoggin. “ We have the tools to build a better transportation system, we just need to use them.”