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

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Unlikely Allies Offer Billions in Deficit Reduction Recommendations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the midst of the federal budget process, lawmakers remain divided along partisan lines on how to prioritize taxpayer dollars and how to address the fiscal gap between revenues and expenditures. A new report released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) provides our elected leaders with some much-needed common ground for progress. Suggesting over $260 billion of deficit reduction recommendations with appeal from across the political spectrum, “Toward Common Ground: Bridging the Political Divide with Deficit Reduction Recommendations for Congress” should act as a roadmap for lowering the deficit without compromising our national priorities.

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Report | U.S. PIRG and National Taxpayers' Union Foundation | Budget

Toward Common Ground 2017

As we enter the budget season under a new administration, our nation faces enormous fiscal challenges. The national debt stands just shy of $20 trillion, numerous unfunded obligations increase the debt burden substantially, and policymakers will soon have to decide how to address the debt ceiling – the statutory limit on the amount of debt the government can issue. It is time to set aside politics and work on concrete and bipartisan solutions to put America’s finances back on track.

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News Release | Public Health

Statement on SC Johnson’s skin allergen disclosure announcement

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

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Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 24, the full D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in PHH v. CFPB—a case that could have a significant impact on the work of the most effective consumer protection agency that we have. Check out this blog and new short video from PIRG Litigation Director Mike Landis on why the idea of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

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We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Statement on House Financial Services Committee Passage of HR 10, the Wrong Choice Act

Today, the House Financial Services Committee approved HR 10, the so-called Financial Choice Act, on a straight party-line vote. We call it the Wrong Choice Act. The bill eviscerates the successful CFPB, which has returned $11.8 Billion to over 29 million consumers in less than six years. The bill repeals much of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act enacted to protect us after the 2008 financial collapse. Our statement is below.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

New report shows victims of aggressive tactics from medical debt collectors

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KFC To Eliminate Use of Medically Important Antibiotics from Chicken Supply

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

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Report | MoPIRG and Consumers Union | Public Health

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Transportation

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

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While powerful special interests, Senators, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and the White House call for dismantling the CFPB, firing its excellent director, or worse, CFPB continues to be an agency that is on the job, conducting business as usual to protect consumers. Its latest "Monthly Complaint Snapshot" is an open window into the many reasons we need a strong CFPB.

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Blog Post | Higher Ed

Consumer, Student Education Groups Defend CFPB To Congress | Chris Lindstrom

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Blog Post | Health Care

PIRG applauds decisions blocking health insurance mega-mergers | Jesse Ellis O'Brien

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Blog Post | Democracy

Call your representative and senators every day. Here's how. | Andre Delattre

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This week, CFPB Sues TCF Bank for overdraft schemes and loan servicer Navient for "failing" students | Ed Mierzwinski

Despite an escalation of threats to exterminate the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau, CFPB continues to protect consumers well. This week it sued TCF Bank over deceptive overdraft marketing schemes and it sued Navient, the student loan servicer and Sallie Mae spinoff, for "failing" students at every step of the repayment process. The TCF complaint notes that its CEO brazenly named his boat "Overdraft."

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