Study Labels Some Big-Spending Highway Projects “Boondoggles”

A new report by a consumer lobby group has identified what it says are nearly a dozen big-spending highway projects across the country it characterizes as "boondoggles."

A new report by a consumer lobby group has identified nearly a dozen big-spending U.S. highway projects totaling at least $13 billion, and characterized them as “boondoggles.”

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future says that despite the fact that Americans drive no more in total now than they did in 2005, state and federal governments continue to pour vast sums of money into “questionable highway projects” that no longer make sense in an era of changing priorities.

The report identifies 11 projects across the country “poised to absorb billions of scarce transportation dollars,” saying they are oftentimes based on outdated information and exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

“These projects, some of them originally proposed decades ago, either address problems that do not exist, or have serious negative impacts on surrounding communities that undercut their value,” it states.

According to the group, with the federal Highway Trust Fund on “life support,” states struggling to even meet basic infrastructure needs and a growing demand for non-driving forms of transportation, America does not have the luxury of wasting tens of billions of dollars on new highways of questionable value.

Among the projects listed is Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct with an estimated cost of $3.1 to $4.1 billion. The report says a transit-based alternative underway as a ‘stopgap’ could be expanded in order to achieve nearly all the same goals as the tunnel project for less money.

Also listed in the report is the Illiana Expressway, in Illinois and Indiana, a $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion project.

“A new privatized toll road proposed primarily to speed freight trucks across the Midwest may instead charge tolls too high to attract trucks, and will likely require hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies” the U.S. PIRG said about the Illiana.

A popular $1.2 billion project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that calls for double decking I-94 also made the list.

“Insisting on a wider road despite its own data showing feared traffic increases are not materializing, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation seeks to rebuild an existing highway as an eight-lane double-decker route through a narrow channel between three cemeteries, despite objections from local officials and citizen groups,” according to the group.

Other projects on the list that reached over the billion dollar mark: Interstate 11 in Arizona and Nevada at $2.5 billion, Dallas Trinity Parkway costing $1.5 billion and the widening of I-94 through Detroit, Michigan, at $2.7 billion.

According to the group, the diversion of funds to these questionable projects is especially harmful given that there is an enormous need for investment in repairs for existing roads.

The group says policy-makers should “encourage transportation investments that can reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects. Investments in public transportation, changes in land-use policy, road pricing measures, and technological measures that help drivers avoid peak-time traffic, for instance, can often reduce congestion more cheaply and effectively than highway expansion.”

The report also suggests governments invest in research and data collection to more effectively track how people travel and ensure transportation models reflect the needs of changing demographics.

To read a full copy of the report, click here.

Sources
The Federation of State PRIGS
The Seattle Stranger
The Dallas Observer
Michigan Radio
Citizen Times