Deputy Director, PennEnvironment
Deputy Director, PennEnvironment
ERIE, Pa. — On the heels of Labor Day weekend, one of the year’s busiest weekends on the roads, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, PennPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group released a new report on Thursday that exposes highway boondoggles across the country that, if completed, would not only waste billions of dollars but also deepen our country’s harmful dependence on cars. The report includes the $100 million redesign of the already controversial Bayfront Parkway in Erie that would attract more speeding traffic to the city’s developing bayfront while failing to meet community demands for better pedestrian access from downtown and neighborhoods.
“Every time we spend money on infrastructure, we have an opportunity to re-envision the future,” said Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director of PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “We should not invest in highway boondoggles that will exacerbate our pollution and global warming problems. The projects that we choose to invest in should be ones that are going to make American lives better.”
Last November, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to repair the nation’s crumbling transportation system and invest in a modern day transportation network. Pennsylvania and other states, however, continue to press on with billions of dollars worth of highway expansion projects that would worsen climate change, harm air quality and further lock Americans into dangerous and harmful car dependency.
In Erie, PennDOT is pursuing an expensive redesign of the Bayfront Parkway focused on further clearing the way for car traffic through the area. Many residents believe the project will waste vast sums of public money without reconnecting the city with its bayfront. In addition to widening the highway, the project will remove surface crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, requiring people to travel farther to reach destinations on the other side of the parkway. Earthjustice, the NAACP and PennFuture are in active litigation against PennDOT, seeking meaningful public input and a full environmental review of the project.
“America can’t afford to squander our historic investment in infrastructure on boondoggle projects,” said James Horrox, Policy Analyst at Frontier Group and lead author of the report. “And yet, across the country, wasteful and damaging highway expansion projects are often first in line for public dollars.”
The report recommends that Pennsylvania cancel this — and other — proposed highway expansion projects and instead use federal funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law to clear their highway repair backlogs and invest in public transportation.
Lisa Austin, a Connect Urban Erie member and District 2 Erie County Planning Commission representative says that though she, “supports PennDOT’s plan to improve 12th Street for cross-town commuters” she is “adamantly opposed to PennDOT’s Bayfront Central Corridor plan to remove pedestrians from north-south surface crossings in order to prioritize vehicular traffic taking a scenic short-cut through the city.” Austin reports that PennDOT’s plan for two double-lane roundabouts and “highway style” ramps, exits and an underpass “will double traffic, undermine public health, reduce walkability, exacerbate redlining and undermine sustainable economic development.”
“It’s clear, with this latest report, that Pennsylvania still has a misplaced appetite for costly, polluting and ineffective highway expansion projects,” said Matt Casale, director of PennPIRG Education Fund’s Environment Campaigns. “Rather than costly highway boondoggles, we need to start using our money more wisely by investing in public transit, walking and biking instead.”