Maryland’s $9 billion plan to expand the Beltway and Interstate 270 is among the nation’s biggest boondoggles, a public-interest advocacy group said Tuesday in a new report.
The report — issued by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group — highlights nine highway projects, including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to widen certain roadways using public-private partnerships and tolling to pay for them.
The advocates say these projects are unwise for several reasons. They say expanding or building new highways always leads to more congestion over time through the wholly predictable phenomenon of “induced demand”: When new capacity opens up, more commuters and cars — not to mention housing developers and businesses — begin to use the highway until congestion returns. They say building new lanes is also irresponsible when the nation is facing an enormous backlog of needed repairs on existing roads, bridges and other infrastructure — not to mention mass transit systems, such as Baltimore’s and Washington’s. The report advocates a “fix-it-first” policy.
The report also argues that even with public-private financing, states such as Maryland will probably incur additional debt to expand highways, given the stagnant revenue coming from the gas tax. And it makes the case that building more highways is the wrong move when the United States should be promoting alternative ways of getting around that do not rip up neighborhoods and landscapes and dump more pollutants into the air.