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Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. Now, a new report by Maryland PIRG Foundation and Frontier Group identifies nine highway boondoggles across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $30 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed “Traffic Relief Plan” being pushed by Governor Larry Hogan. In total, the plan would cost $9 billion: $7.6 billion to add four new lanes to I-495 and I-270, and $1.4 billion to add four lanes to MD-295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
“The money we spend today decides how we get around tomorrow,” said Emily Scarr, Maryland PIRG Foundation Director. “We need to start solving our transportation problems, from potholes to pollution, and not waste money on the type of highway projects that should be in our rearview mirror.”
The project has been touted by Gov. Hogan as a “public private partnership” that won’t cost taxpayers money, but the report finds that this claim is misleading. Gov. Hogan plans to pursue a public private partnership, but neither experts nor the state expect it to cover the cost of the project. The cost of the new Maryland highways will make it more difficult to pay for other pressing transportation needs, including repairing already existing roads, bridges, and transit infrastructure. More than half of Maryland roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 27 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Maryland is also in the midst of a transit emergency, facing significant repair needs for both the DC Metro and Baltimore Subway.
“From 2008 to 2015, state highway debt more than doubled to $217 billion,” said Gideon Weissman, a Frontier Group analyst and report co-author. “We keep building new highways we don't need, and that hurts our ability to move toward a smart 21st century transportation system that works for all of us.”
Marylanders are concerned about traffic and congestion, but as the report explains, road expansion rarely reduces congestion. (Page 10)
The report recommends that states reexamine proposed highway expansion projects in light of changing transportation needs and instead invest in more effective solutions, such as road repair and transit expansion, that reduce the misplaced appetite for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects.
“We need to be smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars. Now and in the future, Maryland should have less pollution, less gridlock and more public transit,” said Scarr. “ We have the tools to build a better transportation system. We just need to use them.”
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