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Research group blasts Opportunity Corridor as a "Highway Boondoggle"

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/18/14 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Transportation choices

boon·dog·gle NORTH AMERICAN informal noun work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.

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With Americans moving at greater pace into cities, many leaving cars behind, it would seem logical that investments in urban mobility options like biking, walking and mass transit would keep pace.

But, the Public Research Interest Group reports in Highway Boondoggles today that 11 highway projects, including Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor, are evidence of the opposite: That government spending has not yet caught up.

PIRG says that many of the proposed highways and expressways fulfill non-existent demand as driving miles in the U.S. continue to decline and, since 2005, new development in cities outpaced that in suburbs.

“The Driving Boom is over,” PIRG declares, adding that a dollar not spent on roads like Opportunity Corridor is a dollar that could build up a stronger transit system or introduce intelligent traffic control measures.

The group offers data and trends such as, the federal government predicted Americans would be driving 11,300 miles annually instead of the current average which has fallen to just below 9,400. The shift predates the recession of 2007-2013, PIRG adds. Also, the number of cars and licensed drivers per household both peaked during the 2000s and have subsequently declined.

These powerful signs are not being yielded in places like Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. All are prepared to spend billions on new or expanded highways. In Cleveland, PIRG reports, residents of the Opportunity Corridor have expressed concern that the road won’t benefit them. Instead, they would like to see more investment in the Rapid and bus lines serving their neighborhood.

Highway boondoggles are threatening to extend into a second decade. PIRG notes that highway spending was nearly the same in 2010 as it was in 1999 when 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. If states had redirected their resources to fixing roads instead of building new highways during that time, no state-owned roads would have surfaces in poor condition by the end of 2014, PIRG writes. "Americans have been driving less, but state and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at U.S. PIRG and a co-author of the report. “The time has come to shift our resources to invest in 21st century priorities, like fixing our roads and bridges and providing more Americans with a wider range of transportation choices.”

They conclude that state and federal decision-makers should reevaluate the need for the projects like Opportunity Corridor. Instead, 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.

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