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 Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center | Transportation

New report: 108 million Americans live in areas that experienced at least 100 days of polluted air in 2018

One-third of all Americans live in areas that suffered through at least 100 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

> 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
News Release | MASSPIRG | Transportation

Statement: Massachusetts could be taking a big step toward all electric buses

Today, nearly all of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) buses run on fossil-fuels, contributing to global warming and health-harming air pollution. That could soon change: the Massachusetts State Senate is considering a bill requiring that the MBTA purchase only electric buses starting in 2030 and that all MBTA buses be electric by 2040.

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

New Jersey just took a massive step on clean transportation; more states should follow

New Jersey set a new benchmark today in addressing the nation’s number one source of global warming emissions: transportation. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a groundbreaking electric vehicle bill into law that offers a clear roadmap for state houses and governors nationwide to tackle climate change.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

2019 in Review: The U.S. commits to clean public transit | Ethan Evans

State transit agencies and school districts are leading the way.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Vision Zero Act would mean safer roadways to combat increased pedestrian and cyclist deaths

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new data last week showing that pedestrian and cyclist deaths on American roads are at their highest levels since 1990. In response, the co-chairs of the bipartisan federal Bike Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), introduced the Vision Zero Act.

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

Cities across the country are leading the way on electric buses

Cities across the country making the switch to electric buses are reaping benefits on dual fronts -- reducing emissions as well as operating expenses. A new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group highlights the experience of six early adopters, illuminating the successes, challenges and lessons learned

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

Statement: Denying California the right to set its own emissions standards is a bad deal for all Americans

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it would revoke a waiver that gave California the ability to set its own standards for automobile emissions. The waiver allowed the state to set stricter air quality standards than those imposed at the federal level -- and provided an avenue for other states to follow suit. More than one-third of U.S. auto buyers live in the 14 states plus Washington, DC, that have adopted California’s stricter standards.

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

Senate bill marks progress on clean transportation and electric vehicles, but leaves a lot to be desired

 

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works unveiled a major transportation bill today, which includes a section on climate change that shifts some federal highway money to Complete Streets -- a  program that makes streets safer for walking and biking. The legislation also moves money toward investments in public transportation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and authorizes funding for an expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

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

New report exposes nine wasteful highway projects across the country

Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. In the fifth edition of their Highway Boondoggles report, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identify nine new wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to cost at least $25 billion collectively. Over five editions of the report, the groups have profiled 50 boondoggles.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Climate Solutions from Day One

New governors are getting ready to take office in 20 states, from Florida to Alaska. As America’s newly elected governors prepare to take on their states’ biggest challenges, they should prioritize taking bold action on the greatest challenge of our time: climate change.

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

Paying for Electric Buses

Most of America’s school and transit buses run on diesel, a highly-polluting fuel, but there is a better option. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and save money for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. 

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

Highway Boondoggles 4

America's infrastructure is in rough shape. Many of our roads, bridges, and transit systems are aging and in need of repair. Yet, year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars' worth of new and expanded highways that do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from repairs and 21st century priorities. This report profiles nine highway projects that epitomize the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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

Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air

Buses play a key role in in our nation’s transportation system, carrying millions of children daily to and from school and moving millions of Americans each day around our cities. Buses reduce the number of individual cars on our roads, make our communities more livable and sustainable, and provide transportation options for people of all ages and abilities. Yet, the majority of America’s buses remain dirty – burning fossil fuels like diesel that put the health of our children and communities at risk and contribute to global warming.

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

Plugging In

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

2019 in Review: The U.S. commits to clean public transit | Ethan Evans

State transit agencies and school districts are leading the way.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

2020 resolution for America’s cities: drive less, live more | Matt Casale

In 2019, Norway's capital city of Oslo experienced zero deaths on its roads. In 2020, American cities should resolve to take the steps to end roadway deaths as well. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Massachusetts Coalition Calls on State to Switch to Electric Buses | Matt Casale

Along with the Zero Emission Bus Coalition -- a collective of environmental, transit, labor, community, and public health organizations dedicated to accelerating the electrification of public transit - we delivered this letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack and the Chairman of the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board, Joseph Aiello calling for a clear commitment to transition the MBTA to all-electric buses. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

We’re on a road to nowhere | Matt Casale

What’s worse than building a new highway to an airport? Building a new highway to an airport that doesn’t exist.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

The cyclist’s dilemma: How safety, climate and air pollution collide on America’s roadways | Matt Casale

Walkers and bikers are getting killed at alarming rates -- at a time when we need this type of transportation more than ever. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

Americans are staying home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and therefore public transportation ridership has plummeted. Transit agencies across the country are facing budget challenges and being forced to make tough decisions, including cutting back routes or shutting down service altogether. But essential workers -- like healthcare professionals, grocery store clerks, pharmacists, and others -- still need to get to work, and we’re depending on them to do so. For them, we need to keep our public transit systems running.

Blog Post

Driving is down across America during COVID-19, but the trends vary from state to state. Our new blog post reviews which states saw the fastest drops in traffic and what the future might hold.

Blog Post

Closing streets (or parts of streets) to non-necessary cars on some routes around grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and other essential locations can help make travel safer during a time of necessary physical distancing. It will also create safe passages for people to walk and bike, which may also help reduce crowding in parks and on trails, where people have been congregating in an attempt to get outside and get exercise during quarantine.

Blog Post

Given the recent steep drop in highway traffic, and associated lost gas tax revenues, some federal aid to state transportation agencies seems likely. But the emergency caused by COVID-19 should not lead us to rush to complete the build-out of highway projects that were bad ideas in the first place – much less fuel a new round of wasteful highway construction under the guise of “stimulus.”

Blog Post

How to tune out the noise and focus on what matters.

Transportation

12 states just announced plans to transform our transportation system

Transportation is the single largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S.—but Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C., just released a plan to change that, called the Transportation Climate Initiative.

 

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

2018 was the deadliest year for cyclists since 1990

Seventeen pedestrians and two cyclists were killed every day, on average, in traffic crashes in 2018. PIRG Transform Transportation Campaign Director Matt Casale explains that cyclists face a dilemma: walking or biking are convenient and pollution-free modes of transportation, but they're also dangerous in a world that's been built car-first.

 

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Get on the electric bus

A look at six early adopters of electric buses

 

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does your state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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