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A new report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, "Highway Boondoggles: Wasteful Spending and America’s Future," calls I-11 an example of wasteful highway spending based on its outdated assumptions of ever-increasing driving. The study points to data showing that the $2.5 billion proposed project is based on forecasts that are out of sync with current trends and that, at nearly all of the highway’s traffic counter locations, traffic growth has been slower than forecasted in project documents or has actually declined. The study, which also details ten other highway "boondoggles" across the country, calls for state and federal policy makers to reprioritize scarce transportation dollars to other projects.
"Arizona tax dollars shouldn’t be gambled on a highway to Las Vegas, particularly when the odds are based on reversing a trend in how Arizonans travel," stated Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. "Bikes, Trains and Less Driving," a report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, found that between 2005 and 2012 Arizona saw a 10.5 percent decline in annual vehicle miles traveled per capita and Arizonans increasingly look to public transportation to get around.
According to the report, despite the end of the Driving Boom in Arizona and across the country, the United States continues to spend tens of billions of dollars each year on highway expansion. More specifically:
- U.S. federal, state and local governments spent roughly as much money on highway expansion projects in 2010 as they did a decade earlier, despite a dramatic change in anticipated future growth in driving. In 1999, the federal government anticipated that Americans would be driving 3.7 trillion miles per year by 2013 – 26 percent more miles than we actually did.
- States continued to spend $20.4 billion a year constructing new roads or expanding the capacity of existing roads between 2009 and 2011, according to Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense. During that same period, states spent just $16.5 billion repairing and preserving existing roads, even as those roads’ surface conditions worsened.
- If the states had spent their road expansion money on repairs instead, they could have halved the portion of road surfaces in poor condition by 2011. If that practice had continued, no state-owned roads would have surfaces in poor condition by the end of 2014.
The report also states that the eleven highway projects it highlights – slated to cost at least $13 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending. Brown said that the projects, some of them originally proposed decades ago, either address problems that do not exist, or have serious negative impacts on surrounding communities that undercut their value. Brown added that the report points to a sampling of many questionable highway projects across the country that could not only cost taxpayers billions of dollars to build but many more billions of dollars over the course of upcoming decades to maintain.
"Americans have been driving less, yet state and federal policy makers want to spend billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on obsolete assumptions," said Brown. "While Arizona struggles to maintain basic infrastructure and meet growing demands for investment in public transportation and other non-driving forms of transportation, our state should not waste money building unnecessary new roads."
The Arizona PIRG Education Fund encourages state and federal policy makers to:
- Reconsider all plans for new and expanded highways in light of new transportation trends and recent changes in traffic volumes. This includes projects proposed to be completed via public-private partnerships.
- Reorient transportation funding away from highway expansion and toward repair of existing roads and investment in other transportation options.
- Encourage transportation investments that can reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects. Investments in public transportation, changes in land-use policy, road pricing measures, and technological measures that help drivers avoid peak-time traffic, for instance, can often reduce congestion more cheaply and effectively than highway expansion.
- Reevaluate transportation forecasting models to ensure that they reflect changing preferences for housing and transportation among Millennials and others, and incorporate the availability of new transportation options such as carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing.
- Invest in research and data collection to more effectively track and react to ongoing shifts in how people travel.
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