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

Massachusetts to Spend VW Settlement Money on Electric Buses and EV Charging Infrastructure

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) released a draft plan that proposes using the first $23.5 million the state is receiving as part of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal settlement on electric vehicle infrastructure. The plan dedicates $11 million for the purchase of new, all-electric buses, $5 million for the expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and reserves the rest to be used on other projects that will help electrify the state’s transportation network.

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

New Report Identifies Nine Wasteful Highway Projects Across the Country

Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. Now, a new report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated collectively to cost at least $30 billion.

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

As electric cars revolutionize the vehicle market, new study helps cities address infrastructure and parking challenges

With electric vehicles (EVs) hitting U.S. streets in record numbers, a new study by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group highlights best practices to help local officials make their cities as EV-friendly as possible. The new report, “Plugging In: Readying America’s Cities for the Arrival of Electric Vehicles,” includes local and state data about the projected number of electric cars expected on the road in coming years, and how cities can accommodate these new EVs with enough places to park and recharge.

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Volkswagen Must Still Comply With Federal Fuel Efficiency Standards

Statement by John Olivieri, National Campaign Director for 21st Century Transportation at the United States Public Interest Research Group, on Volkswagen’s efforts to elude EPA standards governing the release of auto pollution, and the corporation’s future ability to comply with federal fuel efficiency requirements in the wake of its recall. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Why U.S. House's Focus on Tax Compliance for Transportation Funding Is Better than Proposals for Discounted Repatriation of Offshore Profits

Statement on this week’s House Plan to Fund the Highway Trust Fund Through the End of the Year

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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. 

> Keep Reading

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Finding Solutions to Fund Transit

The public need and demand for transit will grow sharply in the future and transportation funding must become better targeted to future needs. This paper explains why lawmakers should turn to new dedicated revenues to provide long-term solutions while increasing market efficiency and reducing social costs. Legislators should avoid short-term band aids from the general budget or one-time gimmicks such as road privatization.

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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.

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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.

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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.

> Keep Reading
Video Blog | Transportation

Webinar On "A New Direction" Report

Webinar on the report, "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future."
 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

A Trillion Fewer Driving Miles?

Transportation policy needs to focus on whether the youth-trend toward less driving since 2004 is the new normal.

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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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