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 | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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Letter: Protecting the FTC from Special Interest Attacks

While much of our work has been in defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), we also support the efforts of the over-100 year old Federal Trade Commission.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Delayed CFPB/Other Wall Street Reform Rollbacks Happening Today On House Floor | Ed Mierzwinski

Last month the House canceled floor consideration of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. FSGG is back on the floor today and tomorrow. We urge support of amendments to protect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) but, since they won't pass, we urge a no vote on the bill. Here's an updated excerpt from my previous blog.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Court Rejects PIRG-Opposed Swipe Fee Settlement With Visa/Mastercard | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit threw out a preliminary $7.25 billion settlement between Visa and Mastercard and any merchant accepting credit cards (including U.S. PIRG), ruling that despite that seemingly massive payment for past practices that the settlement gave inadequate relief to merchants going forward, as it essentially immunized the networks for any future illegal conduct while providing mostly illusory benefits. Since we accept credit cards from our members, we, joined by Consumer Reports, had formally objected to the settlement as consumer advocates who also happen to be merchant class members (most merchant associations also objected).

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

House Launches Frenzy of Attacks on CFPB, Public Protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Today and tomorrow the House floor showcases a variety of special-interest backed bills designed to eliminate public protections and weaken financial reform. Action starts soon with an attempt to override the President's veto of legislation to wipe away a new Department of Labor rule designed to protect hard-earned retirement savings from Wall Streeters seeking their "share" of your own share. Then, the House will consider the massive FSGG Appropriations bill, which rolls back the independence and authority of the CFPB and other financial reforms. Finally, they've teed up a bill to eliminate the Supreme Court's long-standing "Chevron doctrine," which says that courts must defer to expert agencies in certain circumstances. Without the doctrine in place, polluters and wrongdoers will have more opportunities to challenge public protections.

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News Release | MOPIRG Education Fund | Budget

NEW REPORT: Missouri Receives "C+" in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending

Missouri received a “C+” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2015: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the sixth annual report of its kind by the Missouri Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Credit Bureaus’ Deal to Improve Accuracy ‘Huge’ for Consumers

(Bloomberg) -- Buying homes, getting jobs and borrowing money will be easier after an agreement by the three biggest U.S. consumer credit reporting services with New York.[...] “It’s a sea change in the way the credit bureaus treat complaints,” said [U.S. PIRG's Ed] Mierzwinski. “The credit bureaus have been run by computers for years now. They’re going to have to hire more people and actually verify that what a creditor said is true.”

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

FCC NET NEUTRALITY ORDER PROTECTS THE OPEN INTERNET

Today the FCC took not one but two critical actions to make sure that the Internet works for everybody. First, it issued a "Net Neutrality" order guaranteeing a free and open Internet. This Internet freedom order will prevent the phone and cable companies from granting fast lanes or other preferences to already powerful firms. The FCC also acted to override state laws that prevented local governments from building out broadband networks to compete with the phone and cable companies.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

USPIRG Commends Department of Labor's Rule On Conflicted Retirement Advice

Today, we joined President Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, CFPB Director Rich Cordray, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and others at AARP as the President announced his strong support for a proposed Labor Department rule to close loopholes and to require Wall Street and other financial advisors to put consumers first when they give retirement advice. Wall Street has already launched a misleading attack. Read more to see our statement supporting the proposal, which will put billions of dollars back into retirement accounts.

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News Release | MoPIRG Foundation | Transportation

New Report Shows Mounting Evidence of Millennials’ Shift Away from Driving

The 2000s saw a marked decrease in the average number of miles traveled by young Americans, and that trend appears likely to continue even as the economy improves, due to the consistency of Millennials’ surveyed preferences, a continued reduction of Millennials driving to work, and the continued decreases in per-capita driving among all Americans.

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Report | MoPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2012

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual MoPIRG survey of toy safety. In this report, MoPIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Food

Apples to Twinkies 2012

In this report, we find that in 2011, over $1.28 billion in taxpayer subsidies went to junk food ingredients, bringing the total to a staggering $18.2 billion since 1995. To put that figure in perspective, $18.2 billion is enough to buy 2.9 billion Twinkies every year - 21 for every single American taxpayer. 

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Budget

Following the Money 2012

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

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Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Auctioning Democracy

A new report by MoPIRG Foundation and Demos shows an analysis of the funding sources for the campaign finance behemoths, Super PACs. The findings confirmed what many have predicted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s damaging Citizens United decision: since their inception in 2010, Super PACs have been primarily funded by a small segment of very wealthy individuals and business interests, with a small but significant amount of funds coming from secret sources.

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Report | MoPIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice | Financial Reform

Representation Without Taxation

Marking the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, this report takes a hard look at the lobbying activities of profitable Fortune 500 companies that exploit loopholes and distort the tax code to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Food

The foundation is crumbling | Bill Wenzel

What was missing from President Obama's visionary plan for medical progress? 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

House Tees Up VW Bailout and Other Attacks on Public Protections, Consumer Rights | Ed Mierzwinski

(Updated 8 January to add vote results): You've probably heard that the House is soon planning to again repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That bill will certainly be vetoed. But the House has other anti-consumer, anti-environmental bills scheduled for floor action this week and next. The bills take aim at agency health, financial and safety regulations and also consumer rights to band together as a class to take their grievances against corporate wrongdoers to court. That last bill would immunize Volkswagen from having to compensate VW Diesel owners for being deceptively sold cars designed to "defeat" air pollution requirements.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Food

Progress in 2015 and hope for the new year | Anya Vanecek

This was a big year for the fight to save antibiotics. Now we’re looking to the future and looking forward to continuing our efforts to stop the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Food

All I want for Christmas is responsibly-raised meat. | Anya Vanecek

I don't want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need...

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Blog Post | Public Health, Food

It keeps getting better | Steve Blackledge

By next summer, all of the chicken served on Papa John's pizzas and poppers will be raised without antibiotics. The pizza chain's announcement adds them to a growing list of restaurants that are helping to stop the overuse antibiotics on large industrial farms.

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