Activists Finger Nine Highway-Construction ‘Boondoggles’


(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion says that you can’t cure traffic jams by adding or widening roads because “roads cause traffic”: The more lanes there are, research shows, the more vehicles will emerge to occupy them. 

Obviously that law can be taken to an absurd extreme. No one says the U.S. should still be depending on colonial post roads, American Indian footpaths, and deer trails. Still, two activist groups argue that U.S. states are going too far in the other direction, building and expanding interstate highways unnecessarily. 

“The nation cannot afford expensive ‘boondoggle’ projects that don’t meet our most important transportation needs,” says a June 26 report issued by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Frontier Group called “Highway Boondoggles 4: Big Projects. Bigger Price Tags. Limited Benefits.”

In an interview, co-author Matthew Casale, U.S. PIRG’s transportation program director, says states should put more money into repairing and maintaining existing roads and bridges, as well as investing in public transportation, redesigning jobs to permit more telecommuting, and discouraging suburban sprawl. As Casale sees it, sprawl induces road construction, which in turn causes more sprawl. “You can’t really build your way out of congestion,” he says.

No surprise that Associated General Contractors of America, an organization of builders, sees things differently. Brian Turmail, a spokesman, says “we absolutely need to expand capacity,” arguing that the level of economic activity is closely correlated with the amount of traffic on the roads. “We have a highway system that was built out with traffic expectations that were far lower than what we have now,” he says. Where the roads are located is also an issue. Congestion is worst on north-south arteries because the designers of the interstate highway system focused more on east-west routes, Turmail says.

Even if you don’t think all highway expansions are a waste, clearly some are less essential than others. Of the 32 projects cited in three past reports, three have since been canceled and three “were on hold with significant potential for cancellation” as of February 2018, the new report says.

Anyway, here are the nine projects fingered in this year’s “boondoggle” report:

—Traffic relief plan, Maryland, $9 billion
—I-49 inner city connection, Shreveport, La., $547 million to $640 million
—U.S. Highway 101 expansion, San Mateo, Calif., $534 million
—I-35 expansion, Austin, $8.1 billion
—LBJ East expansion, Dallas, $1.6 billion
—Pennsylvania Turnpike expansion, Pennsylvania, $6.9 billion
—I-94 north-south expansion, Wisconsin, $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion
—I-285 and State Route 400 interchange rebuilding, Atlanta, $596 million
—North Spokane Corridor, Spokane, Wash., $1.5 billion                                                                                                                                                  


To contact the editor responsible for this story: Eric Gelman at

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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