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: ‘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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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund & Environment California Research and Policy Center | Transportation

Ready to Charge

Global warming is already impacting California in devastating ways. In 2018, wildfires ravaged the state, with the deadliest wildfire in history, the Camp Fire, killing at least 85 people, and the largest wildfire ever recorded in the state, the Mendocino Complex, burning almost half a million acres. For nearly seven years, the state has been experiencing a drought, which has greatly impacted agriculture and water resources. At the same time, rising sea levels threaten coastal communities with flooding, erosion and mudslides.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG supports bipartisan bill to make our roads safer

U.S. PIRG supports legislation filed last week by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), designed to make our roads safer. The Stop Underrides Act would require that all trucks install underride guards -- technology that helps prevent deadly crashes.

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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.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

In Response to Lawsuit, Highway Administration Reinstates Transportation Clean Air Rule

In a big win for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration today responded to a lawsuit brought by U.S. PIRG, NRDC, and SELC on behalf of Clean Air Carolina by reinstating a federal rule requiring state and local planners to account for and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

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News Release | Transportation

Groups Sue Trump Admin. for Risking Americans’ Health by Suspending Transportation Clean Air Safeguards

The Trump administration put Americans’ health at risk by abruptly suspending a federal safeguard intended to curb a major source of climate-changing emissions, the pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, according to a lawsuit filed today. The Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. PIRG, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, are suing the Federal Highway Administration for illegally suspending the clean air standard this year, and are seeking its immediate reinstatement.

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

With States Pledging to Comply with Goals of Paris Agreement, New Report Finds $2.9 Billion in Volkswagen Settlement Funds Could Help Accelerate All Electric Transportation Revolution

 

A new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund finds that $2.9 billion from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement is headed to states to help clean up the country’s transportation system and strongly recommends using the funds to purchase electric vehicle fast charging stations for highways along with an aggressive expansion of all-electric transit buses to replace aging, dirty, diesel buses. The report finds that states throughout the country could supply between 4,350 and 8,700 additional fast charging stations, significantly improving the nation’s electric infrastructure, and could purchase over 3,000 all-electric, zero-emissions buses, reducing dangerous pollution and saving money, all while accelerating market transformation to an all-electric transportation system.

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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.

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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.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Transportation in Transition

A first-of-its-kind report showing that on average, residents of America’s cities are driving less and using other modes of travel more.  The report compares the latest government data on changes in automobile use, public transit travel and biking in each of the most populous 100 urbanized areas across the nation.  Recommendations are made for how policy leaders should adapt to these new trends.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Way to Go

Early evidence suggests that new innovations in technology and social networking are beginning to change America’s transportation landscape. New transportation services are providing people with an abundance of new options, helping to overcome barriers to the use of non-driving forms of transportation, and shifting the economics behind individuals’ travel choices. Collectively, they are also opening up the opportunity for more Americans to adopt “car-free” and “car-light” lifestyles with dramatically less driving.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Moving Off the Road

Forty-six states plus the District of Columbia witnessed a reduction in the average number of driving miles per person since the end of the national Driving Boom. The evidence suggests that the nation’s per-capita decline in driving cannot be dismissed as a temporary side effect of the recession. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

The Driving Boom—a six decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States—is over. The time has come for America to hit the “reset” button on transportation policy—replacing the policy infrastructure of the Driving Boom years with a more efficient, flexible and nimble system that is better able to meet the transportation  needs of the 21st century. 

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Report | Ohio PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Eight Questions about the Future of the Ohio Turnpike

Ohio Governor John Kasich has touted privatization plans for the Ohio Turnpike as a possible way to fund roadway projects around the state that have been stalled by deep budget cutbacks he signed to highway and bridge construction. Ohioans must make sure that eight basic questions have been fully addressed to ensure that fair comparisons are made and hidden costs are considered.

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Blog Post | Transportation

The Value of Open Streets | Sean Doyle

There are few, if any, public spaces as abundant and conspicuous as streets.  Historically, pedestrians and cyclists ruled on our streets and roads, but today, these public spaces have largely been appropriated by, and are engineered for, the sole use of cars. Enter International Car Free Day – a day where people are encouraged to move around for work, errands or recreation without a car. While the official Car Free Day has been marked since the mid-1990s, today people are rediscovering that our streets shouldn’t just be for cars, giving the day new significance.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Better fuel standards aren’t making our roads more dangerous | Sean Doyle

Last week, the Washington Times wrote an alarming editorial claiming that more Americans are dying on the nation’s roadways due to better fuel economy standards for vehicles – a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, not only is this claim ill supported by the available data, but it distracts from the real problem and proven solutions that can help save American lives.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Guest Post from NRDC's Deron Lovaas: Better transportation plans, better communities

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has a chance in the Obama administration’s final months to lift metropolitan and state transportation plans to a new level of performance.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Bad Verdicts on Equally Bad Highway Projects | Sean Doyle

Two highway projects, representative of some of the worst such projects in the nation, received the nod from officials recently. If you’re a fan of wasteful, outdated highway expansion projects that cannibalize scarce transportation dollars, then it was a good week. But if you care about the concerns of local communities, fiscal responsibility, public health, the environment, and giving people more and better mobility options in America, the support for these highway projects was unwelcome news.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Clean Transportation Doesn’t Need To Be A Distant Utopia | John Olivieri

For many, when they think of combating global warming, they think of solar panels on rooftops and eliminating coal fired power plants. But, the truth is, there is not an effective solution to address global warming that does not deal with transportation as well.

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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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