The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has issued a news release about freeway expansion with relevance in Little Rock.
It’s about a vote by Florida to proceed with a $3.3 billion Tampa expressway project hotly contested by many local people. This follows what US PIRG calls another freeway boondoggle, an expansion of I-77 approved by North Carolina.
US PIRG issued a report earlier this year on a dozen highway boondoggles around the country. That report includes examples of states that have backed away from freeway projects.
US PIRG characterizes the freeway expansions recently approved as a waste of money that could be better devoted to alternative transportation — from pedestrian to bike to mass transit and other arterial traffic improvement. John Olivieri, the group’s director of transportation, comments in a way that should sound familiar in Little Rock, where the highway builders hope to build a 12-lane bridge (the third widest in the nation) to handle traffic from a 10-lane concrete canyon for Interstate 30- in downtown Little Rock. The Tampa project includes a tollway.
Projects like TBX and the I-77 expansion in North Carolina have been sold to the public on the grounds that they will help reduce congestion. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that, in the long-run, highway expansion is ineffectual at combating congestion. Critics of highway expansion point to Texas, where state officials spent $2.8 billion expanding the Katy Freeway to as wide as 30 lanes at some points, making it the widest highway in the world. The result: the expansion incentivized additional driving that soon offset the short-term benefits, with commute times in the morning and afternoon increasing 30 and 50 percent respectively.
“Expanding existing highways to accommodate new tolled lanes is often a failed exercise. Additional highway capacity incentivizes additional driving. Not long after completion, congestion commonly returns to preexisting levels or worse,” said Olivieri. “Drivers will likely see little benefit, all while states waste scarce transportation dollars that could be put towards the repair of existing infrastructure or much needed investment in healthy and environmentally friendly forms of transportation, including expanding transit, or building biking and walking alternatives,” he noted.