This is Awkward—Highway Widening Projects Based on Obsolete Projections

Several highway-widening projects on the East Coast were approved under the pretense of expected growth in traffic totals. Now planners are scrambling to figure out the new normal.
Kenny Louie / Wikimedia Commons

“Highway planners misjudged the future because the Great Recession reduced both commercial and passenger travel, and because of an unexpected drop in driving by young adults,” writes Paul Nussbaum.

The article includes a lengthy list of highway projects that moved forward based on projections that now look anything but clairvoyant.

  • For the $2.5 billion project to widen the New Jersey Turnpike, the planners estimated that northbound traffic volume would increase by nearly 68 percent above 2005 levels and southbound traffic would increase by 92 percent by 2032. Quite the opposite trend has taken place: “Now, one-third of the way through that 27-year forecast, turnpike traffic is actually about 10 percent lower than it was in 2005.”
  • “In 2007, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission assumed that traffic would grow 3 percent to 5 percent every year to help pay for debt as it took on a new obligation to contribute up to $900 million a year to fix other roads around the state.” Instead, “traffic has been essentially flat.”
  • “And when the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decided in 2003 to replace the 50-year-old, four-lane Scudder Falls Bridge on I-95 with a $328 million, nine-lane, 180-foot-wide toll bridge, it assumed that traffic would increase 35 percent by 2030.” Rather, “bridge traffic has declined slightly and is now below the levels of 2002.”
  • The Schuylkill Expressway and Interstates 95 and 476 have also experienced reductions in traffic over the last six years.
Full Story: Drop in traffic on area highways forces review of plans


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