A new report by a consumer lobby group has identified what it says are nearly a dozen highway spending projects in the U.S. it characterizes as “boondoggles.”
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future explains how the 11 projects, costing at least $13 billion, are based on what it says are driving forecasts that are out of synch with the decade-long trend toward less driving.
“Americans have been driving less, but state and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst at U.S. PIRG and a co-author of the report. “The time has come to shift our resources to invest in 21st century priorities, like fixing our roads and bridges and providing more Americans with a wider range of transportation choices.”
The report was released as Congress has been debating a long-term highway funding measure, including how to sustain the Highway Trust Fund, make up of fuel and other taxes, which goes to pay for highway projects.
According to the group, with the federal Highway Trust Fund on “life support,” states struggling to meet basic infrastructure maintenance needs, and growing demands for investment in public transportation and other non-driving forms of transportation, America does not have the luxury of wasting tens of billions of dollars on new highways of questionable value. It said state and federal decision-makers should reevaluate the need for the projects profiled in this report and others that “no longer make sense in an era of changing transportation priorities.”
Among the projects on the list are 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” according to U.S. PIRG.
Also on this list is a project that calls for double-decking I-94 in Milwaukee, at a cost $1.2 billion.
“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.
Baxandall said with limited resources dedicated to repair, and more than 600,000 bridges in the country that engineers have deemed “structurally deficient,” according to the Federal Highway Administration, he questions the need for project to build new roadways.
“Why should states prioritize spending on these highly questionable highway expansions while 600,000 bridges remain structurally deficient and other, more deserving projects languish without funds?” he said.
The report is available on the U.S. Public Interest Research Group website.