Are highway expansions multibillion dollar boondoggle projects?

June 26, 2018

Tyson Fisher


While Americans impatiently wait for Congress to come up with an infrastructure bill, roads and bridges are crumbling. We are quick to blame the federal government for its lack of action. But a new report reveals how local and state governments are wasting billions of dollars on boondoggle projects.

To say government spending is inefficient is a major understatement. Whether we are talking about pork barrel spending or legitimate projects that are being delayed, billions of our tax dollars are being wasted. Look no further than infrastructure to highlight this inefficiency.

Recently, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund released a report titled “Highway Boondoggles 4: Big Projects. Bigger Price Tags. Limited Benefits.” The Google dictionary defines “boondoggle” as “work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.”

The report highlights nine highway expansion projects valued at $30 billion that are essentially useless. The report described the projects more diplomatically, referring to them as those that “do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and 21st-century transportation priorities.”

For the most part, the report explains why highway expansions, in general, are counterproductive in solving congestion problems. According to the report, highway expansions actually draw in more drivers. This ultimately leads to the same congestion but on just more lanes than before.

Despite the boondoggle that is highway expansions, governments continue to throw away billions of dollars on an unproven method.

Below are the nine “boondoggles” recognized by the report:

    1. Traffic Relief Plan” in Maryland, at a cost of $9 billion: A plan on new highways comes as Maryland struggles to fix the Baltimore Metro, which was forced to close for urgent repairs in February.
    2. I-49 Inner City Connection in Shreveport, La., at a cost of $547 million to $640 million: A proposed new highway would slice through the heart of a neighborhood.
    3. U.S. Highway 101 Expansion in San Mateo, Calif., at a cost of $534 million: Widening U.S. Highway 101 in the San Mateo area will bring more cars into an already congested area, while directly conflicting with California’s global warming goals.
    4. Interstate 35 Expansion in Austin, Texas, at a cost of $8.1 billion: Despite enormous state highway debt, and the growing need for transit and complete streets to create more compact and connected neighborhoods, policymakers have proposed spending $8 billion to expand I-35 through the middle of Austin.
    5. LBJ East Expansion in Dallas,  at a cost of $1.6 billion: The costly expansion of an already enormous highway will create 14 lanes (plus two frontage roads) of roadway.

    6. Pennsylvania Turnpike Expansion, at a cost of $6.9 billion: Despite a precarious financial situation that threatens transit systems across the state, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is undertaking an expensive highway widening project on 470 miles of highway.
    7. I-94 North South Expansion in Wisconsin, at a cost of $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion: A highway expansion that would drain resources from other state projects is moving forward as part of an economic incentive package for electronics manufacturing company Foxconn.
    8. I-285 & SR 400 Interchange Rebuilding in Atlanta,  at a cost of $596 million: An expensive interchange project is moving forward even as Atlanta residents clamor for more and better transit.
    9. North Spokane Corridor; in Spokane, Wash., at a cost of $1.5 billion – A proposed highway will slice through a historic Spokane neighborhood and take money from other transportation priorities, in order to take just minutes off the drive to low-density suburbs north of the city.

The report points out there are mountains of evidence and data that suggest highway expansions do not work. Unfortunately, too many government officials ignore science and data. Then again, that’s how the ELD mandate went into effect.


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Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.