You are hereHome >
Stop Highway Boondoggles
More and more of us are looking for better transportation options. Yet we’re still spending billions to expand roads and build new highways every year, even as other needs — from expanding public transportation to critical bridge repairs — go unmet. Across the country there are countless proposed highway projects that are not just expensive — they’re outright boondoggles. We need your help to stop them.
America is in a long-term transportation funding crisis. Our roads, bridges and transit systems are falling into disrepair. Demand for public transportation, as well as safe biking and walking routes, is growing. Traditional sources of transportation revenue, especially the gas tax, are not keeping pace with the needs. Even with the recent passage of a five-year federal transportation bill, the future of transportation funding remains uncertain.
In the past, we’ve identified proposed highway projects across the country that illustrate the need for a fresh approach to transportation funding. In our two reports, Highway Boondoggles and Highway Boondoggles 2, we’ve picked out 23 of the worst examples of irresponsible transportation spending, which combined, would cost billions in scarce transportation dollars. These projects are either intended to address problems that do not exist, or will have grave and destructive impacts on surrounding communities. And they represent just a sample of the many questionable highway projects across the country that could cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to build, and many more billions over the course of upcoming decades to maintain.
Americans’ transportation needs are changing, so why aren’t America’s transportation spending priorities?
State governments continue to spend billions on highway expansion projects that fail to solve congestion
In Texas, for example, a $2.8 billion project widened Houston’s Katy Freeway to 26 lanes, making it the widest freeway in the world. But commutes got longer after its 2012 opening: By 2014 morning commuters were spending 30 percent more time in their cars, and afternoon commuters were spending 55 percent more time in their cars.
Or consider that a $1 billion widening of I-405 in Los Angeles that disrupted commutes for five years — including two complete shutdowns of a 10-mile stretch of one of the nation’s busiest highways — had no demonstrable success in reducing congestion. Just five months after the widened road reopened in 2014, the rush-hour trip took longer than it had while construction was still ongoing.
Highway expansion saddles future generations with expensive maintenance needs, at a time when America’s existing highways are already crumbling
Between 2009 and 2011, states spent $20.4 billion annually for expansion or construction projects totaling just 1 percent of the country’s road miles, according to Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense. During the same period, they spent just $16.5 billion on repair and preservation of existing highways — the other 99 percent of American roads.
What's more, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the United States added more lane-miles of roads between 2005 and 2013 — a period in which per-capita vehicle miles traveled declined — than in the two decades between 1984 and 2004.
Federal, state and local governments spent roughly as much money on highway expansion projects in 2010 as they did a decade earlier, despite lower per-capita driving.
Our list of highway boondoggles
We’ve targeted some of America’s biggest highway boondoggles, and are working to stop them from moving forward. Just as importantly, we plan to use these examples as a way to spark a serious conversation about making smarter transportation choices, and giving us more options to get around.
Americans’ long-term travel needs are changing
In 2014, transit ridership in the U.S. hit its highest point since 1956. And recent years have seen the emergence of new ways to get around, including carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing, and the influence of those new options is only beginning to be felt.
According to an Urban Land Institute study in 2015, more than half of Americans — and nearly two-thirds of Millennials, the country’s largest generation — want to live “in a place where they do not need to use a car very often.” Similar trends exist for older adults. An AARP study showed older adults in general put the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets and local investment in public transportation in their top five priorities for their communities.
Moving America forward
It’s time to put an end to highway boondoggles, so we are working with concerned citizens, community groups, policy makers and elected officials to send these wasteful highway projects back to the drawing board.
Our lives, our communities, and how we get around are constantly changing. It’s well past time for our transportation spending priorities to reflect these changes, rather than the outdated assumptions that so many of them are based upon. We deserve to have a safe, reliable transportation system that offers real options for however people might want to get around. Stopping these highway boondoggles is an important first step for getting us there.
WASHINGTON – Midway through a summer full of brutally hot weather, flash floods and worsening drought, the U.S. Senate passed the largest-ever package of climate and clean energy investments. The Inflation Reduction Act includes roughly $369 billion in climate spending, designed to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030 and put the United States’ Paris Climate Accord goals within reach. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on Friday, August 12.
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s administration announced a new proposed rule on Thursday to address the climate impact of the nation’s transportation system. The rule, proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), will require state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations to report the carbon dioxide emissions of vehicles traveling on their respective sections of the federal highway system, and to set declining yearly emissions targets. The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposed rule.
Many communities were cut off by highway projects. A new program aims to help.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a $5 billion Clean School Bus Program to help school districts replace polluting diesel buses with clean electric ones. Currently, most of the nation’s 450,000 school buses run on diesel fuel, even though diesel exhaust has been linked to respiratory illness, cancer and other serious health risks.
"Shifting Gears," a report released by our research partner U.S. PIRG Education Fund, examines the failure of America's outdated transportation finance system — one that too often sacrifices funding for clean, sustainable options like transit or biking infrastructure in favor of wasteful road expansions.
The Biden administration has announced plans to strengthen fuel economy and emissions standards for vehicles, despite industry lobbyists' push for weaker emissions rules. The transportation sector is America's No. 1 source of greenhouse gas pollution, which continues to threaten public health and contribute to global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a report confirming that our society is on track to do irrevocable damage to the planet — unless we dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions. To do that, PIRG is working to electrify America's transportation, end federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, curb waste pollution, and more.
Tools & Resources
Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s FutureU.S. PIRG Education Fund
Transportation Needs Are Changing. We Can’t Afford Wasteful Highways.U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Bill would transform transportation and tackle climate changeU.S. PIRG and Environment America
Your donation supports U.S. PIRG’s work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.