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Puget Sound Gateway Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Wastes $2.8 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars

New Report Identifies 12 of the Worst Highway Projects Across the Country
For Immediate Release

Seattle, WA - A new study by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. 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 Puget Sound Gateway in Washington State, expected to cost at least $2.8 billion. 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 Washington State, continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways. The study shows how some of these highway projects are outright boondoggles.

“Washington State continues to prioritize wasteful highway expansion projects that fail to effectively address congestion while leaving our roads and bridges to crumble,” said Bruce Speight, WashPIRG Foundation Executive Director. “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,” he noted.

According to the most recent federal data, 22 percent of major roads in Washington State are in poor condition. However, the state continues to focus on highway expansion, spending an average of 84 percent of available funding on expansion and only 16 percent on repair. At the same time, transportation behavior is changing.

“The last thing that Washington needs now is another highway boondoggle,” said Clark Williams-Derry, a senior researcher with the Seattle-based Sightline Institute. “Fixing streets and bridges is more responsible, both fiscally and environmentally, than building new highway capacity.”

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, Washington State 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 last year. 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.

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WashPIRG Foundation works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation. www.washpirgfoundation.org.

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