Resource

Factsheet: Highway Boondoggles

Transportation Needs Are Changing. We Can’t Afford Wasteful Highways.
U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Last updated: 1/19/2016

Limited Funds, Changing Needs

America is in a long-term transportation funding crisis. Gas tax revenues are shrinking, with the Congressional Budget Office  projecting  that  federal  highway spending  will  exceed  gas  revenues  in every  year  through  2025,  with  the  gap getting wider over time. The latest federal FAST Act transportation bill transfers an additional $70 billion from the country’s general funds to the Highway Trust Fund – the latest in a series of taxpayer bailouts.

At  the  same  time,  America’s  roads, bridges and transit systems are aging and increasingly in need of expensive repair, while  changes  in  demographics  and consumer  preferences  are  creating  new transportation demands. According to an Urban Land Institute study in 2015, more than half of Americans – and nearly two-thirds of Millennials, the country’s largest generation – want to live “in a place where they do not need to use a car very often.”

Highway Expansion Doesn’t Fix Congestion

Expensive  highway expansion  projects are often justified based on the need to address future congestion. But decades of experience show that
widening a highway often fails to reduce congestion:

  • Texas  spent  $2.8  billion  to  expand Houston’s Katy Freeway, making it the widest in the world, with 26 lanes. The result: commutes got longer. By 2014 morning  commuters  were  spending 30 percent more time in their cars, and afternoon commuters 55 percent longer.
  • California  spent  $1  billion  to  widen I-405  in  Los  Angeles  –  one  of  the nation’s busiest highways. Five months after  the  widened  road  reopened  in 2014, rush-hour trips took longer than they had while construction was still ongoing.

Boondoggles We Can’t Afford

Boondoggle highway projects absorb scarce resources that can be better used for other needs. State governments should cancel or downsize wasteful highway projects and use the funds to fix potholes and bridges and invest in 21st century  transportation  solutions,  including public transportation.

State  and  federal  taxpayers  should  demand transparency, accountability and performance in  transportation  spending  and  insist  that questionable highway projects are re-evaluated based  on  the  latest  data  and  knowledge  of America’s transportation needs.

Highway Boondoggles Can Be Stopped

Several  state  and  local  governments  have taken steps to reevaluate, reshape or eliminate boondoggle highway projects.

  • The Illiana Expressway, a $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion tollway to stretch from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana, was canceled after a federal judge rejected the highway’s environmental analysis as faulty and state officials questioned the road’s expense.
  • The Trinity Parkway in Dallas, a $1.5 billion proposal to build a six-lane, nine-mile tolled highway along the river in the middle of the city, was downsized to four lanes after criticism from the community.
  • A proposal to widen I-94 in Milwaukee has been denied funding by state lawmakers in the wake of community opposition to the project and questions about the accuracy of state officials’ traffic forecasts.

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