Bashing the extension of the Foothill-South Toll Road is sooooo hot right now. Yesterday, we reported on a California Parks Foundation poll that found 78 percent of Orange County voters oppose extending the 241. Today, we're dishing on a new report that ranks the toll road's initial Tesoro Extension among 11 examples in the U.S. of highway spending “boondoggles.”
The “Highway Boondoggles: Wasteful Spending and America's Future” report comes from the number crunchers at the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund. It finds the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) Tesoro Extension and 10 other projects around the country are examples of “wasteful highway spending that threatens to crowd out more important investments.”
The report notes that there were about 32 million fewer toll transactions in fiscal year 2014 on the existing 241 than would have been expected if the trend from 2000 to 2006 had continued. Traffic levels on Route 241 in 2012 remained below 2002 levels.
Don't tell us we didn't tell you so: The Weekly and R. Scott Moxley in particular have repeatedly reported over the years that the TCA has been notorious from the get-go in overestimating ridership and revenues. But much of that was back in the salad days. Now it's a critical time, CALPIRG warns.
“Why would California prioritize spending to stop traffic congestion on a roadway where the biggest problem has been lack of traffic?” asks CALPIRG Executive Director Emily Rusch. “We can't afford to waste $200 million on the Tesoro Extension while 25,000 California bridges remain structurally deficient and dozens of planned transit projects lack funds.”
She points to California having limited resources dedicated to repairing bridges while engineers have deemed 24,955 bridges in the Golden State “structurally deficient,” according to the most recent (2013) National Bridge Inventory tabulated by the Federal Highway Administration.
Rusch's group also accuses the TCA of failing to grapple with the implications of building the Tesoro Extension at a time when fewer Americans are driving. Period. That includes right here, as a California Household Travel Survey found that between 2000 and 2010, walking, biking and public transportation more than doubled as a share of total travel trips, from 11 percent to 23 percent.
“Americans have been driving less, but California and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” Rusch charges. “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.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.