21st Century Transportation

Efficient public transportation systems like intercity rail and clean bus systems would make America’s transportation future better for everyone by reducing traffic congestion and pollution and increasing our options for getting around.

Reforming our broken transportation system

Changing Transportation: U.S. PIRG's series of reports on the dramatic changes underway in how Americans travel.

In the 20th century, Americans fell in love with the car. Driving a car became a rite of passage. Owning a car became a symbol of American freedom and mobility. And so we invested in a network of interstate highways that facilitated travel and connected the nation.

Now we're in a new century, with new challenges and new transportation needs. We still love our cars, but they remind us of our dependence on foreign oil. Americans want choices for getting to work, school, shopping and more. With gas prices up and lifestyles changing, Americans — especially the young — are driving less.

We need a transportation system that reflects and supports the way we want to travel now.

Consider:

For six decades, the number of miles driven by Americans was on the rise year after year after year. Since 2004, Americans reversed the trend and have been driving less. Meanwhile, public transportation ridership nationwide is hitting record highs. This trend is greatest among younger Americans — who will be the biggest users of infrastructure built today. Since the 1950s — despite knowing that buses and rail use far less energy and space — we have spent nine times more on highway projects than on public transportation. 

By reducing traffic and pollution and increasing our options for getting around, efficient public transportation systems like intercity rail and clean bus systems would make America’s transportation future better for everyone.

But America also needs to repair and maintain our current aging infrastructure. Nearly 70,000 of the nation’s bridges are classified as “structurally deficient.” Instead of building ever-wider roads that will only make America more dependent on oil, we need to be smart in how we invest in highways, and fix them first.

The good news is that the public is in many ways ahead of Congress in leading the way toward reform. Help us make sure government recognizes our need to invest in a 21st century transportation system.

Check out our video showcasing our work to bring about better transportation options for America's future.

Issue updates

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 2

Twelve proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $24 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending. These projects, some originally proposed decades ago, are either intended to address problems that do not exist or have serious negative impacts on surrounding communities that undercut their value.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Red Light for Highway Boondoggles | Sean Doyle

Across the country, states are poised to spend billions of dollars on wasteful highway projects -- new construction and expansions -- exhausting limited funds that could be better spent on repair and maintenance or put toward critical investment in transit, biking, and pedestrian options that better meet current and future needs.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Study Identifies Twelve of the Worst Highway Projects Across the Country, $24 Billion Wasted

The study details how despite America’s massive repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, state governments continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways.

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U.S. PIRG Statement on State of the Union Address

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama came before Congress to give his seventh and final State of the Union address. In his speech, the President highlighted top national priorities and some of the greatest challenges faced by the American people.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Food, Transportation

State of the Union: Five Things We’ll Be Listening For | Chris MacKenzie

President Obama has hyped his final State of the Union address as a speech that will help to define his legacy. Here's how he can break new ground.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Wisconsin Legislature Rebuffs Gov. Walker by Refusing Highway Mega-Expansion and Requiring Audit of Inaccurate Forecasts and Wasteful Projects

After weeks of debates that largely centered on the future of transportation spending in the state,  the Wisconsin state legislature last night passed a budget for the upcoming biennium. In a strong rebuke of Governor Scott Walker, the new budget does not give the go-ahead to the controversial expansion of Interstate 94.

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Pope Francis Elevates Public Transportation in Fight vs. Global Warming

Last week, Pope Francis took the unusual step of releasing a 192-page letter, known as an Encyclical, to senior church officials. The Pope’s Encyclical calls for greater reliance on public transportation and criticizes over-reliance on driving as a prime cause of global warming pollution.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG Statement: Until Ways & Means Solves Transportation Funding, Stop Building New Highways

At tomorrow's Ways and Means hearing on funding for transportation, Chairman Ryan should declare a pause to federal funding of new highway lanes until Congress figures out a long-term fix to fund transportation. 

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Highway Expansion Projects Stall Under Growing Scrutiny

As part of a pattern of costly highway expansion proposals stalling under increased scrutiny, a federal court in Wisconsin made history last week by forbidding the use of federal dollars to build a highway because no need had been demonstrated. The court put an abrupt halt to Governor Scott Walker’s plans to spend $146 million widening state Highway 23, holding the project ineligible for federal funding. The court cited inadequate evidence in state travel forecasts or recent traffic counts, adding doubt whether other highway expansion proposals around the country are really needed.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Congress Punts for 33rd Time in Six Years on Federal Transportation Spending, then Leaves Town

 With Congress having just passed another short-term transportation patch to extend current transportation law until the end of July, members left town on recess. The new patch marks the 33rd time in the last six years that Congress has relied upon a short-term extension of prior legislation for transportation funding, rather than find consensus on a long-term bill.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Do Roads Pay For Themselves?

Highway advocates often claim that roads “pay for themselves,” with gasoline taxes and other charges to motorists covering – or nearly covering – the full cost of highway construction and maintenance. They are wrong. To have a meaningful national debate over transportation policy – particularly at a time of tight public budgets – it is important to get past the myths and address the real, difficult choices America must make for the 21st century.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A Track Record of Success

As America moves toward construction of new high-speed rail networks in regions throughout the country, we have much to learn from experiences abroad. High-speed rail lines have operated for more than 45 years in Japan and for three decades in Europe, providing a wealth of information about what the United States can expect from high-speed rail and how we can receive the greatest possible benefits from our investment.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Next Stop: California

As California moves toward construction of a new high-speed rail network, the state has much to learn from experiences abroad. High-speed rail lines have operated for more than 45 years in Japan and for three decades in Europe, providing a wealth of information about what California can expect from highspeed rail and how the state can receive the greatest possible benefits from its investment.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Road Work Ahead

Across the nation, drivers face more than 90,000 miles of crumbling highways and more than 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. Neglected maintenance of roads and bridges acts as a constant drain on our economy and a scourge on our quality of life. Rough and rutted roads cause accidents, damage vehicles, trigger traffic jams that lead to countless hours of delay, and waste money Americans need for other expenses.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Right Track

America’s highways and airports are increasingly congested. Our nation’s transportation system remains dependent on oil. And our existing transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the demands of the 21st century. The United States should build an efficient and fast passenger rail network, with high-speed rail as a central component, to help address the nation’s transportation challenges in the 21st century.

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Blog Post | Transportation

The Shelter, the Fare, & the Bus: Three Options to Streamline Public Transit | Sean Doyle

When it comes to transportation, particularly public transportation, it can often seem like we’re stuck in the past – paying for a bus fare with cash or playing a guessing game with when the bus will arrive. But there are solutions to those problems available today. Here, the component parts of one such solution are broken down; individually, each would make using public transit easier, but in concert they could truly make a 21st century transportation system.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Not an Easy Fix | Sean Doyle

We've learned that VW's ability to provide great fuel economy was based on a lie. In order to fix the pollution problem, fuel economy will likely suffer, making it much more difficult for the repaired cars to meet the U.S. fuel economy standards.

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Blog Post | Budget, Tax, Transportation

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea | Jaimie Woo

A little more than a year ago, I highlighted the absurdity of using a corporate tax holiday to fund infrastructure. Here's a quick refresher: Currently, large wealthy corporations avoid taxes by making it look as though their U.S. profits are generated offshore - costing Americans $90 billion each year in tax revenue.

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Video Blog | Transportation

WISPIRG's Bruce Speight talks transportation spending on WISEye

Do we actually have a transportation-funding deficit, or are we simply spending our transportation funds wrong? WISPIRG Director Bruce Speight aptly asks in an recent interview with Senior Producer Steve Walters on WISEye—a local Wisconsin outlet that presents nonpartisan, unedited coverage of civic and community life statewide on cable TV and the Internet.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Airlines Pushing Bill To Hide True Cost of Airfare | Ed Mierzwinski

After losing its court case to overturn new pro-consumer, pro-competition airfare price disclosure rules, the airline lobby has flown into Congress. Just before the spring recess, a House committee approved a so-called Transparent Airfares Act without benefit of a public hearing. It's a bad idea.

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