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 Education Fund | Consumer Protection

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

More Than 350,000 Urge KFC to Prevent Abuse of Antibiotics in Its Chicken Supply

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

CFPB Turns 5 Years Old, PIRG Celebrates Accomplishments, Warns of Ongoing Threats

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report: Mortgage Problems Rank #1 at CFPB for Consumer Complaints

Mortgage problems were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report also found that Bank of America was the most complained about company in 45 states and Washington, D.C. for mortgage problems.It's the sixth in a series of our reports analyzing nearly 500,000 complaints posted to the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Commend CFPB For Adding Consumer Stories To Public Complaint Database

Yesterday, the CFPB published the first batch (7,700) of consumer narratives or stories to the Public Consumer Complaint Database it began in 2011. We've used the database to publish five reports (so far) analyzing complaint trends in markets ranging from credit cards to student loans but we have also long urged the voluntary addition of stories to the data fields. Now, consumers can learn if what happened to them happened to anyone else. Now, researchers can track which banks are more responsive to particular problems and which ignore their customers. A good resource is now an excellent resource.

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How Companies Turn Your Facebook Activity Into a Credit Score

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Supporters of Duckworth Amendment to Protect Our Troops From High-Cost Loans

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Budget

Transparency in City Spending

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility.

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

Billion Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.

Dēmos and MoPIRG Education Fund analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers.

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation and the Center for Media and Democracy | Democracy

Elections Confidential

Elections Confidential describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through “social welfare” non-profits that are really political vehicles and via shell corporations formed as conduits to hide a funder’s identity.

The first post-Citizens United presidential election cycle was bought and paid for by a handful of wealthy donors, but the corrosive influence of money in politics was amplified by the fact that we don’t know who—or what—actually provided much of the funding.

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Report | MoPIRG | Budget

What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Tax Havens

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Report | U.S. PIRG, DEMOS | Democracy

DISTORTED DEMOCRACY: POST-ELECTION SPENDING ANALYSIS

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Blog Post | Transportation

Owning Fewer Cars Isn’t Just For Millennials | Sean Doyle

New transportation options are making it easier for people to use transit more, own fewer cars, and even save money on transportation.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

We oppose latest effort to weaken CFPB, other bank regulators | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the House Financial Services Committee holds its latest cattle-call markup of a package of industry-backed bills designed to weaken consumer, taxpayer, depositor and investor protections. We've signed a letter opposing the so-called TAILOR (Taking Account of Institutions with Low Operation Risk) Act, which piles redundant requirements onto the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other regulators to do what they already do by existing law--treat small banks and credit unions differently than mega-banks. Also, the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform sent up a letter opposing the TAILOR Act and 6 more of the 10 bills on the agenda because they are designed to weaken consumer, taxpayer, depositor and investor protections.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

100+ Groups Oppose Provisions That Threaten Public Protections | Mike Litt

The White House is expected to release its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal tomorrow. U.S. PIRG and various state PIRGs joined a coalition of more than 100 groups that sent the following letter calling on President Barack Obama and all 535 members of Congress to oppose any federal appropriations bill that contains ideological policy riders. 

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Criticizes Banks Re Account Opening and Overdrafts, Offers Consumer Tips | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the CFPB is holding a field hearing in Louisville on problems consumers face when opening bank accounts. It finds that big banks frequently offer consumers expensive accounts where they risk overdraft fees instead of affordable accounts. Further, the CFPB finds that the practices of specialty "bad check" credit bureaus make it harder to open accounts. The CFPB issued warnings to both the banks and credit bureaus while providing consumers with new tips and advice.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Debating trade and consumer protection in Brussels today | Ed Mierzwinski

I am in Brussels today debating consumer protection and the proposed US-European trade treaty known as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP. Today's public event, and a second public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday with live webstream 9am-noon DC time) comparing the CFPB to its European counterparts, are sponsored by the PIRG-backed TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue.

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