We need to stop wasting money on expensive highway projects that don't meet our changing transportation needs.

Demand for public transportation, safe biking and walking routes, and modern ride-share options are all on the rise. At the same time, way too many of our roads, bridges and transit systems are falling into disrepair. Yet, policy makers consistently prioritize spending on new highway projects, often justifying their spending by utilizing outmoded transportation projections and models designed to meet the needs of a different century. 

In 2012, federal, state and local governments spent $27.2 billion expanding the highway system — including new roads, new bridges and widenings of existing highways. Those expansion projects absorbed more than one out of every four dollars spent on highways in 2012. All while we are facing a roughly half a trillion dollar backlog in needed road and bridge repair, and a $90 billion repair backlog in transit repair needs.

Every year, we highlight the most egregious of these new construction and expansion projects in our Highway Boondoggles report. That report finds that these projects aren’t just expensive, they are a total waste of precious transportation dollars. They do not solve the problems they are meant to solve, namely, they do not relieve congestion. But they do take money away from other more pressing needs that would do a better job addressing modern transportation needs, like repairs and maintenance, expansion of public transportation, and local street improvements. 

  • <h3>Traffic Relief Plan, Maryland</h3><h4>Cost: $9 billion</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: The plan would spend $9 billion on new roads, diverting money away from Maryland’s critical transit funding needs – including badly needed maintenance for the Baltimore Metro, which was forced to close for urgent repairs in February 2018.</p><em>Public Domain via Wikimedia</em>
  • <h3>I-49 Inner City Connection, Louisiana</h3><h4>Cost: $547 million to $640 million</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: This proposed new highway would slice through the heart of a Shreveport neighborhood, the cost is being justified with questionable economic growth projections, and will divert money away from needed repairs to existing roads and bridges.</p><em>Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau</em>
  • <h3>U.S. Highway 101 Expansion, California</h3><h4>Cost: $534 million</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: This is U.S. Highway 101’s seventh expansion in the San Mateo area since the 1980s. It's projected to bring more cars into an already congested area, while directly conflicting with California’s global warming goals.</p><em>David Broad, CC-BY-2.0</em>
  • <h3>Interstate 35 Expansion, Texas</h3><h4>Cost: $8.1 billion</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: Despite enormous state highway debt, and the growing need for transit and complete streets to create more compact and connected neighborhoods, policymakers have proposed to expand I-35 right through the middle of Austin.</p><em>Public Domain</em>
  • <h3>LBJ East Expansion, Texas</h3><h4>Cost:  $1.6 billion</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: This costly expansion will create a 14-lane (plus two frontage roads) swath of roadway as wide as a football field is long, add to Texas' already massive highway debt and take money away local rail and transit services in the Dallas area.</p><em>Texas Department of Transportation</em>
  • <h3>Pennsylvania Turnpike Expansion</h3><h4>Cost: $6.9 billion</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: 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.</p><em>li2nmd, CC-BY-4.0</em>
  • <h3>I-94 North South Expansion, Wisconsin</h3><h4>Cost: $1.7 to $1.9 billion</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: This highway expansion would drain resources from other state projects and is moving forward [primarily] as part of an economic incentive package for electronics manufacturing company Foxconn.</p><em>Ken Lund, CC-BY-SA-2.0</em>
  • <h3>285 & SR 400 Interchange Rebuilding, Georgia</h3><h4>Cost: $596 million</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: After morphing far beyond its original scope into one of the most expensive road projects in Georgia history, an $800 million interchange expansion is moving forward – even as Atlanta residents clamor for more and better transit.</p><em>Georgia Department of Transportation</em>
  • <h3>North Spokane Corridor, Washington</h3><h4>Cost: $1.5 billion</h4><p>It's a boondoggle because: This 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</p><em>jdubman, CC-BY-SA-3.0</em>
Fix It First

We need to stop wasting money trying to solve transportation problems of the past. Instead we should fix the roads and bridges we already have and make investments that will help us meet the transportation needs of the future. 
In 2015, 21 percent of the nation’s highways had poor pavement condition. 1 in 9 of the nation’s bridges is rated as “structurally deficient,” and the average age of our bridges is 42 years. This is a result of deferred maintenance and misguided investment in new construction. To catch up, we’re going to have to spend at least $170 billion a year on road maintenance and another $20.5 billion a year on bridge maintenance. We currently spend about half that. This is going to take a major shift in the way our policymakers think about and plan transportation projects.
Now is the time to make these changes. We can’t let our roads and bridges crumble into further disrepair. The further behind we fall, the harder it will be to fix. Poor road and bridge conditions are costing drivers money, increasing congestion, and creating safety hazards. And we need to be planning for the future now. The transportation dollars we spend today to will determine the way we get around tomorrow. 

Investing in transportation solutions, such as public transportation, that help reduce peak-time traffic can often address congestion more cheaply and effectively than highway expansion.
vxla via Wikimedia, CC-BY-2.0
A Smarter Way

Our national network is calling on policymakers in state capitols across the country to adopt a fix-it-first approach to transportation planning, to stop highway boondoggles, and to invest in the future of transportation. 
We’ve worked to promote smarter transportation planning for years, with a track record of success on this issue. Over the years, we have helped stop seven highway boondoggles, saving states up to $13.15 billion. Several other projects we have targeted are under study or being revised. We have a team of research and policy experts as well as an on-the-ground presence in states across the country. Another key to our success: a strong base of members and supporters throughout the states. 

How You Can Help

You can help by signing up for alerts from NCPIRG. Also sign our petition telling your state lawmakers to reexamine proposed highway expansion projects in light of changing transportation needs, and adopt a series of other policy changes to prioritize real transportation improvements and expanding transportation options, and by supporting our work.

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