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 | Transportation

New Study Identifies Nine of the Worst Highway Projects Across the Country, $10 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars Wasted

A new report U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $10 billion. This third iteration of the highway boondoggles report details how despite America’s mounting repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, federal, state and local governments across the country continue to spend billions each year on expanding highways.

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

Highway Boondoggles 3

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 often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and 21st century transportation priorities.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

PIRG to FTC: Used Cars Subject To Recalls Are Not “Safe” | Michael Landis

You’d think that a car dealer couldn’t say that a used car is “safe” if that car is subject to a safety recall (like the Takata airbag recall or the GM ignition switch recall).  But, because of a recent action taken by the Federal Trade Commission, used car dealers can do just that.  To fix this obvious problem, U.S. PIRG and other leading car safety advocacy groups—Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) and the Center for Auto Safety—have sued the FTC and are asking the court to invalidate the FTC’s action.

> Keep Reading

U.S. PIRG Statement on President Trump’s First Address to Congress

President Trump gave his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, highlighting his legislative priorities for the coming year. His speech touched on issues ranging from the budget, infrastructure, and special interest influence in government.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

How Volkswagen’s Deceit Could Help Accelerate an Electric Revolution in Transportation

States could receive $2.7 billion to reduce pollution from transportation. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.

> Keep Reading
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.

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

Federal Data Show Rail Travel Almost 20 Times Safer than Driving Highlights Need to Invest in Improved Amtrak

While last week’s tragic Amtrak train derailment has prompted new questions about rail safety, federal data show that intercity rail is among the safest ways to travel.

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

Congress Should Enable Amtrak to Travel Faster than 100 mph

Statement by John Olivieri, 21st Century Transportation Campaign Director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group on the May 12th Amtrak derailment along a curved stretch of track near Philadelphia. Reports indicate the train was traveling 106 miles per hour on a curve designated as safe for travel at 50 mph.

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

Amtrak Derailment Highlights Need to Fund Rail and Transit as House Votes to Cut $260 Million in Amtrak Budget

While the exact causes of the Amtrak derailment await further investigation, the tragedy highlights the need for Congress to adequately fund rail and transit. 

> Keep Reading

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Report | TexPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Six Public Interest Principles for Considering Private Toll Roads in Texas

Plans for the state of Texas to sign concession deals for privately operated toll roads present a number of dangers for the public interest. Giving long-term control of our roads to a private operator and granting them future toll revenues is a huge commitment that should not be taken lightly. Regardless of whether a deal is with a public or private operator, no concession should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles.

> Keep Reading
Report | NJPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Caution on New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway Deal

A deal to “monetize” the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway should not be signed if it violates the public interest. No deal should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles: public control, fair value, no deal longer than 30 years, state-of-the-art safety and maintenance standards, complete transparency and accountability, and no budget gimmicks.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Transportation

Private High-Speed Rail: A Dangerous Fantasy

The politics of high-speed rail can be bizarre. Few people actually oppose connecting our cities with fast intercity trains. Most of the industrialized world has already shown that the idea is popular and works well. The politicians that do the most to prevent high-speed rail generally claim to be fans of bullet trains who just want the task to be left to the private sector.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Needed: Sane Rule About the Privatization of Infrastructure

You'd think the only reason American infrastructure lacks funding was rules preventing private businesses from throwing money at it. Last week Congress introduced a couple of bills to solve this imaginary problem and one that would set some ground rules to protect the public.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

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.

Blog Post

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

Blog Post

Cities across the country are rolling out electric buses. What can we learn from their early experiences?

News Release | U.S. PIRG

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

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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.

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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