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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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 Education Fund. | Transportation

New National Safety Council Data Show 18 Percent Increase in Motor-Vehicle Fatalities Nationwide Compared to 2014

New data released this week from the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit, nongovernmental public service organization chartered by Congress to promote health and safety in the United States, found a troubling increase in the number of motor-vehicle fatalities during the first half of 2016. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

80,000 Americans, Mayors, Clean Tech Groups, State and City Leaders Call for a Cleaner Transportation System

WASHINGTON (August 23, 2016) –More than 80,000 Americans joined dozens of mayors, business leaders, environmental and consumer groups, and state and city transportation officials in calling on the Obama administration to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s transportation system and  promote cleaner and smarter transportation options that combat climate change.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Federal Data Show Transportation Sector Now the Largest Source of Carbon Pollution in the United States, First Time in Nearly 40 Years

New federal data from the U.S. Energy and Information Administration (EIA) show that the U.S. transportation sector has produced more carbon pollution than any other sector of the economy over the last 12 months, including the electric power, industrial, residential, and commercial sectors. The results mark the first time that carbon emissions from the transportation sector have exceeded emissions from each of the other sectors since 1979.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Growing List of States Push Forward with Wasteful Highway Boondoggles

In the early hours of last Thursday morning, the Hillsborough County local Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the Tampa Bay Expressway project (TBX), clearing the way for the Florida Department of Transportation to move forward with the controversial highway expansion plan. The decision adds Florida to a growing list of states that are pushing forward with wasteful highway boondoggles slated to cost billions. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Survey Finds 1 in 3 Mayors Worried Underinvestment in Infrastructure is Putting Lives at Risk

A new survey by Politico Magazine of U.S. mayors has found that 1 in 3 mayors believe that underinvestment in infrastructure is putting lives at risk, and a plurality of mayors, some 40 percent, believe that that transportation and infrastructure should be the next administration’s highest urban priority.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing the Wheels

We analyzed two data sets and new information that shine light on the influence of campaign giving on transportation funding decisions at the state and federal level. First the report examines, on a state-by-state basis, how much money was contributed to both federal and state campaigns by highway interests, defined as those from the development, automobile, transportation, and construction sectors.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Getting On Track

Illinois’ transportation system is in trouble. High and wildly fluctuating gas prices add to Illinois residents’ economic woes, traffic congestion wastes valuable time and energy, and our cars and trucks produce pollution that harms Illinois residents’ health and contributes to global warming. Illinois needs a transportation system that meets the needs of the 21st century—one in which public transportation plays an even bigger role than it does today. To get there, we need to start investing now in critical public transportation projects.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Arizona’s New Frontier

Over the past few decades, Arizona’s population has skyrocketed. This population growth has not been matched by public transportation investment, and Arizona’s resulting dependence on cars is hurting the state. High and wildly fluctuating gas prices add to Arizonans’ economic woes, traffic congestion wastes valuable time and energy, and our cars and trucks produce pollution that harms Arizonans’ health and contributes to global warming.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Private Roads, Public Costs

Though road privatization deals seem to offer state officials a “quick fix,” they often pose long-term threats to the public interest.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Connecting California

Public transportation makes a vital contribution to California’s transportation system, providing an alternative to drivers tired of fighting congestion, reducing our dependence on oil, and curbing pollution. However, in many communities around thestate, transit systems are inadequate and cannot keep pace with demand.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Why Is Our Infrastructure So Terrible? | Sean Doyle

America is facing a $1.4 trillion infrastructure funding crisis. This isn't some distant problem; it's already having a real effect on everyday Americans.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Good Things Come to Those On Bikes | Sean Doyle

Pull the bike out of the closet, pump up those tires, and dust off the helmet because it's Bike to Work Week!

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Don’t Believe the Hype – Millennials’ Transportation Habits Are Changing | Sean Doyle

Despite news stories claiming that Millennials are buying up cars at record rates, the reality is quite different. After adjusting previous studies to account for differences in the size of the generations measured, on a per-capita basis, Millennials are 29 percent less likely than members of Generation X to own a car.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Breaking the Silence on Transportation and the Climate

Transportation policy-makers in most states and at the federal level have simply never seen it as their business to consider, much less act to reduce, the climate impacts of their infrastructure investment decisions. The Obama administration’s actions last week, however tentative, suggest that that is about to change.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

All Americans Deserve Clean Air to Breathe, On Earth Day and Every Day | Sean Doyle

U.S. DOT asks if we should measure global warming pollution from transportation.

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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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