Highway Boondoggles 3

Big Projects. Bigger Price Tags. Limited Benefits.

A report by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group
Tony Dutzik, Abigail Bradford and Gideon Weissman, Frontier Group
Lauren Aragon, U.S. PIRG Education Fund


Nine proposed highway projects across the country — slated to cost at least $10 billion — illustrate the need for a fresh approach to transportation planning and spending. These projects, some of which were originally proposed decades ago, double down on the failed transportation strategies of the past while causing harm to local communities and using up scarce transportation dollars.

America’s transportation needs are changing. America’s transportation spending priorities aren’t.

State governments continue to spend billions on highway expansion projects that fail to solve congestion.

  • Expanding highways draws new drivers to the roads, often resulting in a rapid return to the congested conditions the expansion project was originally supposed to solve.
  • In Texas, for example, a $2.8 billion project widened Houston’s Katy Freeway to 26 lanes, making it one of the widest freeways in the world. But, just a few years after completion, morning commute times were 30 percent longer and afternoon commute times were 50 percent longer. And in California, the $1.6 billion widening of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles delivered little benefit in terms of reducing rush-hour congestion.

Highway expansion is not a national transportation priority.

  • Highway expansion is often pitched as a way to deal with projected future increases in travel. Over the last decade, however, growth in driving has slowed, with the average American in 2016 driving fewer miles than he or she did in 2002.
  • Forecasts of future growth in driving are often inflated. Americans are now expected to drive nearly a trillion fewer miles per year in 2020 than federal officials projected in 2004.

Highway expansion absorbs money that can be used for more pressing needs.

  • In 2012, federal, state and local governments spent $27.2 billion on expanding the highway system – consuming more than one out of every four capital dollars spent on the nation’s road network.
  • Continued spending on highway expansion diverts funds that could be used to address the nation’s roughly half trillion-dollar backlog of road and bridge repair needs and its $90 billion backlog of transit repair needs, as well as to expand transportation choices for Americans through investments in public transportation.

States continue to spend billions of dollars on new or expanded highways that fail to address real problems with our transportation system, or that pose serious harm to surrounding communities.

In some cases, officials are proposing to tack expensive highway expansions onto necessary repair and reconstruction projects, while other projects represent entirely new construction. Many of these projects began or were first proposed years or decades ago, or are based on long-outdated data.

Take Action

Tell your legislators to stop highway boondoggles

Do you live near one of these boondoggles? Call on your legislators to shelve plans for these wasteful projects, and instead invest in providing more transportation options, and maintaining the roads we have.



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