Highway Boondoggles: The More You Look, the More You See

Our September Highway Boondoggles report has sparked lively discussion about the wisdom and necessity of the 11 questionable highway expansion projects we highlighted. Now, new attention is being focused on other projects that weren’t covered in our report, but have a similarly dubious claim for public support and investment.

The first discovery was from Brandon Formby at the Dallas Morning News. He has been aggressively covering the debate over one of the boondoggle projects we highlighted – Dallas’ Trinity Parkway – including the revelation that it will not improve congestion, and officials’ thin attempts to back the project in the face of evidence their projections are flawed.

Formby didn’t have to look too far to find another potential boondoggle – in fact, just across town. The Northeast Gateway toll road, a four-to-six-lane highway, was being proposed to cross a rural stretch just northeast of Dallas. Formby’s reporting and research found that two agencies’ traffic projections about the proposal differed substantially. That revelation was published on September 26; two weeks later, a group of residents told Hunt County commissioners they oppose building the road, citing the traffic projection problems among their list of grievances. Three days after that, the North Central Texas Council of Governments withdrew its support for the Northeast Gateway, which could kill the project.

In California, residents are having second thoughts about a $300 million bypass in Mendocino County where construction is under way. Not only is it coming under fire for being unnecessary – but also for threatening already imperiled water supplies. Rachel Dovey at NextCity has singled that project out for scrutiny amid a wider critique of the thinking that underlies many transportation officials’ plans.

These two highway projects, like many others around the country, have moved forward despite  dropping demand for driving nationally and the urgent need for investments in road repair, transit investment, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. With Americans reporting that they prefer investments in transit over highway investments as a tool to solve congestion, continued construction of massive new highway capacity is even more out of step with the times.

We knew when we began the Highway Boondoggles research that there were plenty of candidates out there for inclusion in the report – in fact, the Mendocino County project was one we considered, but didn’t make the cut. The continued willingness of government agencies to spent billions of dollars on these projects represents a costly systemic problem that holds us back from building a transportation system that truly serves 21st century needs.