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A new study by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies 12 of the most wasteful highway projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $24 billion. The study details how despite America’s massive repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, state governments continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways. The study shows how some of these projects are outright boondoggles.
“Many state governments continue to prioritize wasteful highway projects that fail to effectively address congestion while leaving our roads and bridges to crumble,” said John Olivieri, National Campaign Director for 21st Century Transportation at the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and co-author of the report. “This in turn saddles future generations with massive repair and maintenance backlogs that only grow more painful and expensive to fix the longer we wait to do so,” he noted.
Recent federal data show that more than 61,000 bridges, or roughly 1 in 10, are structurally deficient nationwide. While other data show that states are overwhelming investing scarce transportation dollars in expansion rather than repair - collectively spending 20.4 billion (55 percent) expanding 1 percent of the current system, while spending just 16.5 billion (45 percent) repairing and maintaining the other 99 percent.
At the same time, states are failing to account for changing transportation trends, especially among Millennials. “America’s long-term travel needs are changing, especially among Millennials, who are driving fewer miles, getting driver’s licenses in fewer numbers, and expressing greater preferences to live in areas where they do not need to use a car often,” said Tony Dutzik Senior Policy Analyst at Frontier Group. “Despite the fact that Millennials are the nation’s largest generation, and the unquestioned consumers of tomorrow’s transportation system, states are failing to adequately respond to these changing trends,” he added.
The study recommends that states:
- Adopt fix-it-first policies that reorient transportation funding away from highway expansion and toward repair of existing roads and bridges;
- Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by improving and expanding public transit, biking, and walking options;
- Give priority to funding transportation projects that reduce the number of vehicle-miles people travel each year, thereby also reducing air pollution, carbon-emissions, and future road repair and maintenance needs;
Some of the egregious examples of wasteful projects discussed in the report include:
I-95 Widening, Connecticut, $11.2 billion – Widening the highway across the entire state of Connecticut would do little to solve congestion along one of the nation’s most high-intensity travel corridors, while further investment in rail infrastructure has long been overdue.
Tampa Bay Express Lanes, Florida, $3.3 billion – State officials admit that a decades-old plan to construct toll lanes would not solve the region’s problems with congestion, while displacing critical community job-training and recreational facilities.
U.S. 20 widening, Iowa, $286 million – Hundreds of millions of dollars that could pay for much-needed repairs to existing roads are being diverted to widen a road that does not need expansion to handle future traffic.
Paseo del Volcan extension, New Mexico, $96 million – A major landholder is hoping to get taxpayer funding to build a road that would open thousands of acres of desert to sprawling development.
The report also looks back at the 11 highway boondoggles identified in 2014. Since the original report came out, several states have revisited plans to expand and build new highways, realizing that the money could be more wisely spent elsewhere. For example, the Trinity Parkway project in Dallas has been revised from a six-lane road to a more limited 4-lane road, and the original proposal to create a double-decker tunnel for I-94 in Milwaukee has been postponed for the foreseeable future. Similarly, the Illiana Expressway, a proposed $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion toll-way intended to stretch from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana has been placed on indefinite hold
“Investing so heavily in new and wider highways at a time when so much of our existing infrastructure is in terrible disrepair is akin to putting an extension on your house while the roof is leaking. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Olivieri.
The report can be read at this link here.
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