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. 

Boondoggle alert

I-94 North-South Expansion

A $1.1 billion highway expansion project that would drain resources from other state projects, which is moving forward as part of a costly incentive package for an electronics manufacturer.

Historically, Wisconsin has focused transportation spending on building newer and bigger highways, often at the expense of more pressing road repair and transit needs. But the state may be turning a corner. In the fall of 2018, then-Gov. Scott Walker pointed to changing transportation preferences in justifying his deprioritization of major highway projects, saying “I don’t know that we need bigger and better and broader [highways] right now when we have a changing transportation system.”

  • <h3 style="color:#AAA;">CASE STUDY</h3><h4 style="color:#FFF; font-size:2em;">I-94 East-West Expansion in Milwaukee<br>COST: $1.15 billion</h4><p>Insisting on a wider road despite its own data showing that feared traffic increases are not materializing, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wanted to rebuild an existing highway as an eight-lane double-decker route through a narrow channel between three cemeteries, despite objections from local officials and citizen groups.</p>
  • <h3 style="color:#AAA;">CASE STUDY</h3><h4 style="color:#FFF; font-size:2em;">WISPIRG TAKES ACTION</h4><p>WISPIRG urged state leaders to now pull the plug on this expansion project for good and come up with a better plan: Fix the highway without expansion and create a modern rapid transit network to connect more people in the region to jobs, opportunities and services.</p><em>Fox 6 News</em>
  • <h3 style="color:#AAA;">CASE STUDY</h3><h4 style="color:#FFF; font-size:2em;">PROJECT CANCELLED</h4><p>Then-Gov. Scott Walker effectively cancelled the project by refusing to provide funding in September 2017.</p><em>Michael Vadon via Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0</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 WISPIRG. 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.

Tell Your Legislators To Stop Highway Boondoggles

Do you live near one of these boondoggles? Call on your legislators to shelve plans for these wasteful projects, and instead invest in providing more transportation options, and maintaining the roads we have.