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.  

Click here to see our list of highway boondoggles

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.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Senate vote heralds cleaner future, safer climate

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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

STATEMENT: New federal rule would help tackle country’s largest source of global warming pollution: transportation

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

How rural states and drivers can reduce their dependence on gas

High gas prices are not going anywhere soon, thanks to the supply shocks from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Some Americans might be able to switch to bikes or public transportation to avoid the worst of this crisis. But even for those in rural areas who cannot practically or safely make that switch, there are still alternatives.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Senate vote heralds cleaner future, safer climate

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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

STATEMENT: New federal rule would help tackle country’s largest source of global warming pollution: transportation

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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Biden restores robust public and environmental review for infrastructure projects

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday stronger public and environmental review requirements under a bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The move reversed a rollback by the Trump administration of the requirements, which had limited public review of federal infrastructure projects in an effort to shove through the permitting of new freeways, fossil fuel power plants and pipelines.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Consumer Groups Commend GM Commitment To Ensure Used Cars It Sells On New Platform Are Free from Unrepaired Safety Recall Defects

Coalition: U.S. PIRG, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, the Center for Auto Safety and the Consumer Federation of America - safety groups that are usually at odds with auto manufacturers - today publicly commended General Motors for the auto giant’s recently announced commitment not to sell used vehicles with unrepaired safety recall defects on its soon-to-be-launched used car platform, CarBravo. Too many car dealers sell dangerous recalled used vehicles.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report: President Biden’s first year in office marks progress on numerous environmental fronts

Following years of rollbacks, President Joe Biden began his term nearly a year ago amidst unprecedented environmental and public health challenges. Despite these obstacles, his administration has made significant strides toward restoring lost environmental protections and confronting daunting threats to our climate and public health, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

> Keep Reading

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66 Mayors Sign Letter to U.S. DOT Urging Action to Reduce Carbon Emissions from Transportation

By 2050, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. While strong urban centers provide many important benefits, cities also face unique challenges. Despite accounting for just 2 percent of landmass, cities produce 70 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. This sad reality jeopardizes the health of urban residents and the health of our planet. That's why today, U.S. PIRG is proud to announce the support of 66 mayors, representing an estimated combined total 6.4 million people, in calling on the United States Department of Transportation to move forward with new rules that could require localities to track, measure, and take steps to reduce carbon emissions from transportation sources.  

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Progress Report: President Biden’s First Year

Following years of rollbacks, President Joe Biden began his term nearly a year ago amidst unprecedented environmental and public health challenges. Despite these obstacles, his administration has made significant strides toward restoring lost environmental protections and confronting daunting threats to our climate and public health, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Trouble in the Air

More than one in six Americans, 58.4 million people, suffered through more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2020. Our report calls attention to the very real public health problems air pollution causes in both cities and rural areas across the country, such as asthma, heart issues, and premature death. It explains how global warming will make air pollution worse, and why tackling climate pollution has an impact on air quality. 

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center | Transportation

Trouble in the Air

People across America regularly breathe polluted air that increases their risk of premature death, and can also trigger asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts. In 2018, 108 million Americans lived in areas that experienced more than 100 days of degraded air quality. That is equal to more than three months of the year in which ground-level ozone (the main ingredient in smog) and/or particulate pollution was above the level that the EPA has determined presents “little to no risk.” These Americans live in 89 large and small urban areas,* and in 12 rural counties.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses in America

New report profiles six case studies of early electric bus adopters across the nation. By understanding common pitfalls and best practices, cities, agencies and school districts can ensure a smoother roll-out of electric buses, helping reduce climate pollution and protect public health.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 5

Highway Boondoggles 5 finds nine new budget-eating highway projects slated to cost a total of $25 billion that will harm communities and the environment, while likely failing to achieve meaningful transportation goals

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

How rural states and drivers can reduce their dependence on gas

High gas prices are not going anywhere soon, thanks to the supply shocks from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Some Americans might be able to switch to bikes or public transportation to avoid the worst of this crisis. But even for those in rural areas who cannot practically or safely make that switch, there are still alternatives.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Update: USDOT now accepting applications for the Reconnecting American Communities program | Lisa Frank

Many communities were cut off by highway projects. A new program aims to help.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Transportation

How discounts and incentives for electric vehicles should be improved | Mike Litt

Our Consumer Campaign Director was invited to speak at the Consumer Federation of America’s (CFA) 56th Annual Consumer Assembly on a panel about consumer protections and climate change.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

MASSPIRG transportation advocate earns an award like no other

Sometimes, you do something so well that they rename your award just to get the point across.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Solid Waste, Transportation

Before we spend $2 trillion, report recommends a 'Blueprint for Tomorrow'

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Make VW Pay, Transportation

Some states are spending funds from VW 'Dieselgate' settlement on diesel

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities for violating emissions standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

Talk about a captive market: For most of us, it's next to impossible to work, shop or go to school without a car. Auto lenders are taking full advantage.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG

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.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

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.

Blog Post

Many communities were cut off by highway projects. A new program aims to help.

Transportation

EPA announces $5 billion for electric school buses

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.

 

Transportation

Money for nothing? How to make better use of our transportation dollars.

"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.

 

Transportation

Proposed federal Clean Car standards are a step toward cleaner air

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.

 

Transportation

Global climate report underlines urgency of reducing emissions

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.

 
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