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

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. 

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Year in review: Consumer, public health and voters’ rights advancements provided 2019 highlights at the state level

Consumer, public health and voter advocacy -- often from the national nonpartisan group U.S. PIRG and its affiliates -- moved the ball forward at the state level in 2019. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: States should adopt strict limits on pollution in Transportation and Climate Initiative

Twelve states plus Washington, D.C. released new details today about a program to reduce global warming emissions from transportation. The Transportation and Climate Initiative will create an enforceable and mandatory limit on transportation pollution, and will generate funding that could be invested in cleaner alternatives. 

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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. 

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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.

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Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG endorses “Clean School Bus Act” to protect the health of America’s children

Sens. Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Tina Smith, Dianne Feinstein and Catherine Cortez Masto introduced a bill Thursday aimed at helping local school districts transition to all-electric transportation. The bill sets up a federal grant program, authorizing $1 billion over five years for grants of up to $2 million per school district, to replace diesel school buses with electric school buses, invest in charging infrastructure, and support workforce development.

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

New report grades all 50 states on Volkswagen settlement spending plans

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities, according to a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center.

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

Report: Roadmap for a stronger, more sustainable American infrastructure

Three years after candidates from both parties made infrastructure a key presidential campaign issue, it’s finally the long-awaited “infrastructure week.” Democratic congressional leaders and the White House announced two weeks ago that they would commit $2 trillion to the cause. But a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group cautions that before allocating that money, our elected officials need to determine which investments will alleviate the most dire problems America faces as a result of crumbling or outdated infrastructure -- climate change, pollution and threats to public safety.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: ‘Green Bus Act’ will drive healthier communities

 

The “Green Bus Act” (H.R. 2164), introduced earlier this month by U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley from California, would increase federal funding available for the purchase of zero-emissions buses over the next ten years and require that all buses purchased with federal funds be zero-emissions by 2029.

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Transportation

Electric bus demonstrations held in three Massachusetts communities

To showcase the value of fully transitioning from fossil-fuel buses, MASSPIRG held electric bus demonstrations in three Massachusetts communities. A 40-foot-long all-electric bus began its tour at The Beebe School in Malden on March 21, before moving to Cape Ann Transportation Authority in Gloucester on March 22. It made its last stop at First Church in Belmont on March 24 from 2:30pm-4:30pm.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

Volkswagen (VW) perpetuated a fraud on the American people, deceiving consumers into believing that they were getting the best possible combination of performance and sustainability. But VW’s promises were nothing more than lies that significantly harmed our collective health and the health of our environment. As a result of the settlements that followed this fraud, an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT) was set up with $2.9 billion dollars to be distributed to states to reduce transportation emissions.

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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.

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Report | Frontier Group and Environment America | Transportation

50 STEPS TOWARD CARBON-FREE TRANSPORTATION

 

Transportation policy in the 21st century needs a new set of assumptions and priorities – with a central goal of preventing global warming.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 2

Twelve proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $24 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending. These projects, some originally proposed decades ago, are either intended to address problems that do not exist or have serious negative impacts on surrounding communities that undercut their value.

> Keep Reading

What's at Stake

Imagine two futures for the transportation system of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In one, the air is cleaner. It is more convenient to use an improved public transit system ad to drive less, so most households only own one car. There are fewer traffic jams because fewer people travel via automobile. There are more sidewalks and bike lanes, so many people walk or bike to their jobs, schools, and other destinations. People feel a little richer with extra money in their pocket, due to less spending on gasoline, parking, and auto maintenance.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

Successful electric bus pioneers overcome challenges of early adoption | Matt Casale

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

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Blog Post | Transportation

Amazon’s big move on electric vehicles | Matt Casale

Last week, Amazon, the online retail and delivery giant, announced plans to purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans to go into service between 2021 and 2024.

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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.

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Blog Post | Transportation

With electric school buses, kids can breathe a little easier | Matt Casale

In Virginia, Dominion Energy proposed the nation’s most ambitious electric school bus plan, but where are the rest of the states?

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Blog Post | Transportation

Our Comments on Florida's VW Settlement Draft Spending Plan | Matt Casale

Last month, Florida became the last state to make public its draft plan for spending the Volkswagen settlement money. Every state in the nation has received money from Volkswagen's historic settlement with federal authorities over emissions control violations in the automakers "clean diesel" vehicles. Florida's share is $166 million. While the plan commits to new funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the plan dedicates the rest of the diesel mitigation funding to the purchase of new diesel vehicles. We urged the state to amend the plan so that the funding is focused exclusively on electric vehicles.”

> 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

Bill to modernize transportation heads to Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package with provisions that prioritize repairing existing infrastructure before funding new expansions, and increase investment in electric vehicles, public transportation, and biking and walking options.

 

Transportation

House transportation bill prioritizes fixing infrastructure, sustainable investment

Federal lawmakers have put forward the INVEST in America Act — a nearly $500 billion transportation spending bill which prioritizes repairing existing infrastructure over new highway projects, and contains key provisions for more sustainable investments.

 

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.

 
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