News Release

U.S. 20 Widening Project Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Wastes $286 Million in Taxpayer Dollars

New Report Identifies 12 of the Worst Highway Projects Across the Country

Contact:
Lauren Aragon
Transportation Fellow
Iowa Public Interest Research Group
(617) 747–4410
laurenaragon [at] pirg [dot] org

A new study by the Iowa PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies 12 of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $24 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed U.S. 20 widening in Iowa, expected to cost $286 million. The new study details how despite America’s massive repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, state governments across the country, including Iowa, continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways. The study shows how some of these highway projects are outright boondoggles.

“Iowa prioritizing a wasteful highway expansion project designed to address a problem that does not exist, while leaving our roads and bridges to crumble,” said Lauren Aragon, Transportation Fellow at the Iowa Public Interest Research Group. “This in turn saddles future generations with massive repair and maintenance backlogs that only grow more painful and expensive to fix the longer we wait to do so,” she noted. The most recent federal data show Iowa has more than 5,000 structurally deficient bridges, over 1 in 5. At the same time, other data also show 14 percent of roads are in poor condition.

Meanwhile, the project fails to account for changing transportation trends, especially among Millennials. “America’s long-term travel needs are changing, especially among Millennials, who are driving fewer miles, getting driver licenses in fewer numbers, and expressing greater preferences to live in areas where they do not need to use a car often,” said Tony Dutzik, Senior Policy Analyst at Frontier Group. “Despite the fact that Millennials are the nation’s largest generation, and the unquestioned consumers of tomorrow’s transportation system, Iowa is failing to adequately respond to these changing trends.” he added.

The study recommends that states:

  1. Adopt fix-it-first policies that reorient transportation funding away from highway expansion and toward repair of existing roads and bridges;
  2. Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by improving and expanding public transit, biking, and walking options;
  3. Give priority to funding transportation projects that reduce the number of vehicle-miles people travel each year, thereby also reducing air pollution, carbon emissions, and future road repair and maintenance needs;
  4. Include future maintenance costs, a range of potential future housing and transportation trends, and the availability of new transportation options such as car-sharing, bike-sharing, ride-sharing, and transit in transportation project selection decisions;
  5. Invest in research and data collection to better track, and more aptly react, to ongoing shifts in how people travel

The report also looks back at the 11 highway boondoggles identified in 2014. Since the original report came out, several states have revisited plans to expand and build new highways, realizing that the money could be more wisely spent elsewhere. For example, the Trinity Parkway project in Dallas has been revised from a six-lane road to a more limited 4-lane road, and the original proposal to create a double-decker tunnel for I-94 in Milwaukee has been postponed for the foreseeable future. Similarly, the Illiana Expressway, a proposed $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion toll-way intended to stretch from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana, has been placed on indefinite hold.

“Investing so heavily in new and wider highways at a time when so much of our existing infrastructure is in terrible disrepair is akin to putting an extension on your house while the roof is leaking. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Aragon.

The report can be read at this link here.

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