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

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Report Identifies Nine Wasteful Highway Projects Across the Country

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

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News Release | Tax, Transportation

U.S. PIRG Response to 2018 State of the Union Address

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News Release | Transportation

Highway Administration Reinstates Clean Air Rule In Response to Lawsuit

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Course

Across America, colleges and universities are showing that efforts aimed at reducing driving deliver powerful benefits for students, staff and surrounding communities. Policymakers at all levels of government should be looking to the innovative examples of these campuses. Universities and college towns also provide useful models for expanding the range of transportation options available to Americans while addressing the transportation challenges facing our communities.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

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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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Blog Post | Transportation

A Step in the Wrong Direction: Pedestrian Deaths Hit Highest Total Since 1990

According to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), pedestrian deaths in the U.S. increased by 35 percent between 2008 and 2017. In this submission from our friends at Frontier Group, Trevor Stankiewicz writes about the time he was hit by a car and how we can redesign our transportation system to build safer communties.

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Blog Post | Transportation

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Here's a guest post from our friend Meryl Compton at Frontier Group. Meryl writes about the challenges of deciding whether or not to ditch a car in a car-centric country.

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Blog Post | Transportation

The Trump Administration’s Flawed Reasons for Rolling Back Clean Car Standards | Matt Casale

The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its roll back of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards -- but their claims just aren’t true.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Georgia's $2 billion Truck-Only Lanes: A Lesson in Outdated Transportation Planning | Matt Casale

Like other major highways across the nation, Interstate 75 in the Atlanta metro area is plagued by congestion. And there are good reasons to think that it will get worse, unless there are major changes. Georgia's plan is to expand the highway by building new truck-only lanes. We know from experience that this won’t play out so well. Not only that, other options could solve the problem in a much more environmentally and socially-beneficial way.

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Blog Post | Transportation

To Build A 21st Century America, Start Here | Jeff Robinson

The stakes in the current infrastructure debate are high. But what matters most is not the size of any federal infrastructure package, nor how it is financed, nor even how many jobs it creates in the coming years. What matters most is building the infrastructure that will enable America to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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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

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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