Highway Boondoggles 3 - Big Projects. Bigger Price Tags.

Today, our friends at Frontier Group released their third Highway Boondoggles Report in collaboration with U.S. PIRG. As they explain in a press release: "This third iteration of the highway boondoggles report details how, despite America’s mounting repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, federal, state and local governments across the country continue to spend billions each year expanding highways."

Click to view larger. (Graphic from Highway Boondoggles 3 report)

The report breaks down the problems with and flawed assumptions behind highway expansion projects and examines nine "egregious examples of wasteful projects." In addition, Highway Boondoggles 3 revisits the 23 highway boondoggles that were explored in the 2014 and 2016 versions of the report.

“Prioritizing highway expansion over the repair and maintenance of existing systems is using tomorrow’s money to pay for yesterday’s policies,” said Lauren Aragon, 21st Century Transportation Fellow at U.S. PIRG Education Fund and co-author of the report.

Highway Boondoggles 3 offers some key recommendations for states looking to make financially prudent transportation decisions:

  1. Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the (need) for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by focusing investments on public transportation, land-use policy, road pricing measures and technological measures that work to help drivers avoid peak-time traffic.
  2. Adopt fix-it-first policies that invest in repair and maintenance of existing road, transit and rail systems and stop the continued deference of these actions to future dates, further increasing a mounting maintenance and repair backlog of billions of dollars;
  3. Use the latest transportation data and require full cost-benefit comparisons for highway projects, including future maintenance and repair needs. This includes fully evaluating potential public-private partnerships.
  4. Revise transportation forecasting models and use up-to-date travel information, reflecting a range of potential future trends for housing and transportation and incorporating the potential impacts of shifts to other modes of transportation, including public transportation, rail, biking and walking, as well as newer options such as ridesharing, carsharing, and bikesharing.
  5. Give priority funding to transportation projects that reduce growth in vehicle-miles traveled, to account for the public health, environmental and climate benefits as well as the reduced need to increase road capacity in the future.
  6. Invest in research and data collection to better track, and more aptly react, to ongoing shifts in how people travel.

Graphic from Highway Boondoggles 3 report.

“Americans are fed up with their commutes, but decades of research shows us that more and wider highways aren't the answer,” said Tony Dutzik, Strong Towns member, senior policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “The $27 billion we currently spend each year on highway expansion can’t fix congestion, but it could make a big difference in fixing our streets and transit systems, and in giving Americans more transportation choices in their daily lives.”

On the Frontier Group blog, Dutzik also recently shared a short "field guide" with 10 ways to recognize a highway boondoggle in the wild. These include:

  • It is old enough to have a mid-life crisis.
  • It solves a problem you didn’t know was a problem.
  • It is sold as the only way to avoid “carmageddon."
  • It is pitched as being built with free money.

Take some time today to read the Highway Boondoggles 3 report. It offers valuable insights and concrete data to explain why highway spending is a bad idea for your community and for towns across the country.

And don't miss Tony Dutzik's recent essay on our site, "Can Highways Heal the Rust Belt?" Three guesses on the answer to that question...

Read more from #NoNewRoads, our campaign to end wasteful road spending.

(Top photo source: ʄɭoʏɗiaɲ τ¢)

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