Tuesday, April 18, 2017

U.S. PIRG: 30 Crossing one of nine worst highway boondoggles

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 10:07 AM

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The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's plan to widen Interstate 30 is a waste of $632 million in taxpayer dollars, an analysis by public policy and consumer groups says. (See full press release on the jump.)

A transportation fellow at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group called the AHTD plan, which would replace the I-30 bridge and widen the interstate from six to eight lanes plus "collector/distributer" lanes that would add another four lanes over 7 miles, "irresponsible."

U.S. PIRG grouped 30 Crossing with eight other widening projects estimated to cost taxpayers $10 billion. The report noted federal data that said the U.S. has 56,000 structurally deficient bridges, or about 9 percent of all bridges, and that 21 percent of the nation's highways have poor pavement conditions. From the news release:
"While replacing an aging bridge is a good idea, widening a highway that has already sliced through Little Rock and North Little Rock is a continuation of bad transportation solutions that don’t work and instead increase vehicle-miles traveled,” said Lauren Aragon, transportation fellow at United States Public Interest Research Group. ...

“Widening highways is a method that has been shown to be expensive and ineffective at reducing traffic, the state and local governments should focus on other methods of improving congestion issues,” said Aragon.
Report co-author Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group noted research that highway widenings cost U.S. $27 billion a year but don't solve congestion, and that the money would be better spent "fixing our streets and transit systems, and in giving Americans more transportation choices in their daily lives.”

The study recommends that states invest in public transportation and technological approaches to help drivers avoid rush hour traffic, invest in repair and maintenance of existing roads, use up-to-date forecasting and travel information that includes impacts of shifts to other means of transportation, prioritize projects that benefit public health and the environment and collect data to better track shifts in how people travel.


I-30 Widening in Arkansas Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Wastes $632 Million in Taxpayer Dollars

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


A new report by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $10 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed I-30 expansion in Little Rock, expected to cost $632 million. This third iteration of the highway boondoggles report details how despite America’s mounting repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, federal, state and local governments across the country, including Arkansas, continue to spend billions each year on expanding highways. The report disputes the claims used to justify these investments and argues that the projects are outright boondoggles.

“While replacing an aging bridge is a good idea, widening a highway that has already sliced through Little Rock and North Little Rock is a continuation of bad transportation solutions that don’t work and instead increase vehicle-miles traveled,” said Lauren Aragon, transportation fellow at United States Public Interest Research Group. “Prioritizing the I-30 expansion at the expense of maintenance and public transportation expansions that would move people off the road is irresponsible,” she noted.

The $632 million set aside for the I-30 construction project represents a reverse of past regional policies that aimed to limit freeways in Little Rock to no more than six lanes. While traffic on the I-30 bridge itself has been stable over the last decade, the state’s traffic and safety study assumes that a 10-lane road will attract 4 to 7 percent more traffic than an 8-lane road, and that an 8-lane road would attract 15 to 18 percent more traffic than a 6-lane road.

“Americans are fed up with their commutes, but decades of research shows us that more and wider highways aren't the answer,” said Tony Dutzik, senior policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “The $27 billion we currently spend each year on highway expansion can’t fix congestion, but it could make a big difference in fixing our streets and transit systems, and in giving Americans more transportation choices in their daily lives.”

The study recommends that states:

1. Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the (need) for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by focusing investments on public transportation, land-use policy, road pricing measures and technological measures that work to help drivers avoid peak-time traffic.

2. Adopt fix-it-first policies that invest in repair and maintenance of existing road, transit and rail systems and stop the continued deference of these actions to future dates, further increasing a mounting maintenance and repair backlog of billions of dollars;

3. Use the latest transportation data and require full cost-benefit comparisons for highway projects, including future maintenance and repair needs. This includes fully evaluating potential public-private partnerships.

4. Revise transportation forecasting models and use up-to-date travel information, reflecting a range of potential future trends for housing and transportation and incorporating the potential impacts of shifts to other modes of transportation, including public transportation, rail, biking and walking, as well as newer options such as ridesharing, carsharing, and bikesharing.

5. Give priority funding to transportation projects that reduce growth in vehicle-miles traveled, to account for the public health, environmental and climate benefits as well as the reduced need to increase road capacity in the future.

6. 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 23 highway boondoggles identified in the 2014 and 2016 versions of this report. Since the original reports came out, several states have revisited these projects, ultimately deciding that the money should be spent elsewhere. For example, the Mon-Fayette Expressway was put on hold due to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s mounting debt and lack of public support. In California, the Tesoro extension was denied on the ground that it would threaten local water resources.

“Widening highways is a method that has been shown to be expensive and ineffective at reducing traffic, the state and local governments should focus on other methods of improving congestion issues,” said Aragon.

The report can be read at this link here.

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