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I-84 Expansion in Danbury Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Wastes $715 Million in Taxpayer Dollars
A new report by the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG) 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-84 expansion in Danbury, expected to cost $715 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 Connecticut, 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.
“With more than half of the state’s public roads in poor condition, it’s high time the state of Connecticut reassess its priorities when it comes to big highway projects or we’ll never truly solve our transportation issues,” said Kate Cohen, State Director at the ConnPIRG. “Prioritizing the I-84 expansion in Danbury at the expense of transit and rail improvements that would move people off the road is irresponsible,” she noted.
“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.”
While $715 million is being set aside for the I-84 construction project, the most recent federal data show Connecticut has 338 structurally deficient bridges, about 8 percent of all bridges. Moreover, other data also show 57 percent, or 21,512 miles, of public roads in the state are in poor condition. Once maintenance is deferred, the future cost to repair and rehabilitate roads and bridges back to good condition grows significantly.
“The State's ambitious Let's Go CT initiative is already endangered by a soon-to-be insolvent Special Transportation Fund and push back on capital funding,” said State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport. “We need to set strategic priorities focused on the most urgent and essential infrastructure projects. Expanding lanes on the interstates, with benefits arguable at best, should not be prioritized.”
"Connecticut continues to pursue highway expansion projects while uncertainty about the state's transportation fund grows," said Joseph Cutrufo, Director of Connecticut Policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "It's a sad state of affairs when elected officials will stand in the way of new transportation revenues at the same time that they welcome spending money on adding new lanes to roads."
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.
However, in Connecticut, widening I-95 the length of the state is still part of Gov. Malloy's 30-year plan to fix the state's transportation system. In 2002, a state-commissioned study examined the issue of congestion and concluded that "adding capacity to highways induces additional traffic, as people take additional automobile trips." The report instead endorsed improved rail service along Metro North as a way to alleviate congestion.
“Right here in CT we see money been wasted on a proposed "widening" of I-95 from the NY border to Rhode Island,” said Jim Cameron, founder of Commuter Action Group. “Consultants are being paid millions of dollars to consider a plan that was already examined and rejected, just a few years ago.”
“Investing in a method that’s been shown to be highly expensive and ineffective at reducing traffic is a waste of taxpayer money, especially since other methods to improve congestion issues exist. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Cohen.
The report can be read at this link here.
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