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 | Health Care

Our Statement on Senate Health Care Bill

Statement by Jesse Ellis O’Brien, WISPIRG Health Care Advocate, on public release of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act.” 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Statement Commending New Military Consumer Enforcement Act

Read our statement commending the introduction of the Military Consumer Enforcement Act by Sens. Jack Reed (RI), Sherrod Brown (OH) and others. These senators have the right idea-- strengthen the CFPB’s ability to protect servicemembers, veterans and their families. Why do others want to weaken the CFPB?

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

WISPIRG Statement on Passage of the “Wrong Choice Act” By U.S. House

Today, the U.S. House, on a nearly party-line vote, approved H.R.10, the Financial CHOICE Act – the Wrong Choice for all of us who aren’t Wall Street banks or predatory lenders.

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News Release | Public Health

Statement on SC Johnson’s skin allergen disclosure announcement

“SC Johnson, the manufacturer behind popular brands like Glade, Pledge, Windex, and more has announced today that it will disclose the presence of 368 fragrance and non-fragrance potential skin allergens that may occur in its products. This is a great move for chemical transparency in consumer products."

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

PHH v. CFPB: The Latest Attack on the Consumer Bureau | Michael Landis

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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News Release | Health Care

Our Statement on Senate Health Care Bill

Statement by Jesse Ellis O’Brien, WISPIRG Health Care Advocate, on public release of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act.” 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Statement Commending New Military Consumer Enforcement Act

Read our statement commending the introduction of the Military Consumer Enforcement Act by Sens. Jack Reed (RI), Sherrod Brown (OH) and others. These senators have the right idea-- strengthen the CFPB’s ability to protect servicemembers, veterans and their families. Why do others want to weaken the CFPB?

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

WISPIRG Statement on Passage of the “Wrong Choice Act” By U.S. House

Today, the U.S. House, on a nearly party-line vote, approved H.R.10, the Financial CHOICE Act – the Wrong Choice for all of us who aren’t Wall Street banks or predatory lenders.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Public Health

Statement on SC Johnson’s skin allergen disclosure announcement

“SC Johnson, the manufacturer behind popular brands like Glade, Pledge, Windex, and more has announced today that it will disclose the presence of 368 fragrance and non-fragrance potential skin allergens that may occur in its products. This is a great move for chemical transparency in consumer products."

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News Release | Democracy

Our Statement Regarding the President’s “Commission on Election Integrity”

Read WISPIRG's statement on the President's establishment of an "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity."

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Payday Loan Expansion Stopped

In July 2015, after WISPIRG convened a coalition of 30 groups to call for action, Gov. Scott Walker vetoed budget provisions that would have dramatically expanded payday lenders’ authority to sell predatory financial products to Wisconsin consumers. Payday loans trap consumers in a spiral of growing debt with detrimental impacts, particularly for low-income borrowers.

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Payday Loan Expansion Stopped

In July 2015, after WISPIRG convened a coalition of 30 groups to call for action, Gov. Scott Walker vetoed budget provisions that would have dramatically expanded payday lenders’ authority to sell predatory financial products to Wisconsin consumers. Payday loans trap consumers in a spiral of growing debt with detrimental impacts, particularly for low-income borrowers.

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Reforming Wisconsin’s Transportation Priorities

In 2015, WISPIRG and our coalition partners urged legislators to stop billion-dollar highway boondoggles, like the I-94 expansion, and our hard work paid off: The expansion of I-94 is on hold indefinitely, and we will work to stop it for good before the next budget debate begins in 2017. Just as significant is that legislators have taken up our call to examine the Department of Transportation’s flawed traffic forecasts by ordering an audit of the State Highway Program.

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Result | Democracy

Delivering one million petitions to President Obama on dark money

U.S. PIRG joined a broad coalition to deliver one million petitions from Americans, including U.S. PIRG members and supporters, calling on President Obama to shine a light on dark money, or secret political spending.

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30 years of toy safety

For the past thirty years, our sister organization U.S. PIRG Education Fund has taken a close look at the safety of toys sold in stores. Their reports have led to more than 150 regulatory actions. In November 2015, they released our 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. "Medical Debt Malpractice" is the latest in our series based on analysis of complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database. The report demonstrates that the CFPB is a critical agency protecting consumers against unfair financial practices and needs to be defended against special interest attacks.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health

Get the Lead Out

Our children need safe drinking water – especially at school where they go to learn and play each day.  Unfortunately, lead is contaminating drinking water at schools in Wisconsin, and across the country.  As our report shows, state policy is so far failing to make the grade when it comes to keeping lead out of drinking water at school.  We recommend proactively removing the lead pipes and plumbing at the root of this toxic hazard for our children.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Student, Education, and Consumer Groups Defend CFPB To Congress

On February 13, nearly 60 local, state and national student advocacy, professional, consumer, educational, faith and other organizations sent a letter to Congressional leaders expressing "strong support for the crucial work the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) does on behalf of student loan borrowers." The "borrower-focused" letter also urged Congress "to ensure the agency remains well-positioned to solve borrowers’ problems, which includes protecting the Bureau’s single-Director structure and its independent funding, and maintaining Director Richard Cordray until his term ends.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Make VW Pay, Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

Volkswagen (VW) perpetuated a fraud on the American people, deceiving consumers into believing that they were getting the best possible combination of performance and sustainability. But VW’s promises were nothing more than lies that significantly harmed our collective health and the health of our environment. Yet, their deceit now represents a historic opportunity to drastically reduce harmful pollution that makes us sick and destroys the planet, while also providing an essential down payment toward the transition to a clean and modern 21st century transportation system.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2016

For over 30 years, the WISPIRG Foundation has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

This year, WISPIRG Foundation staff examined toys recalled by the CPSC between January 2015 and October 2016 and looked at whether they appeared to still be available for sale online. 

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

PHH v. CFPB: The Latest Attack on the Consumer Bureau | Michael Landis

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

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

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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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Banks Cook Books To Promote Wrong Choice Act, Attack CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

Today the House Financial Services Committee takes up the so-called Financial Choice Act, which we call the Wrong Choice Act, to repeal the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and leave the CFPB an unrecognizable husk incapable of protecting consumers. Some 52 state bank associations urged support of the bill, based on a "cook-the-history-books" analysis of bank consolidation, which has not increased since 2010, even though they make the claim based on preposterous math.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Financial Choice Act: A Cruel Choice for the CFPB & Consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED 4/25 with link to our letter to Congress. This week, on Wednesday 4/26, the House FInancial Services Committee holds a hearing on Chairman Jeb Hensarling's Financial Choice Act 2.0. It's a brutal un-do of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that forgets, or ignores, the historical fact that reckless bank practices abetted by loose regulators wrecked our economy in 2008. A key goal of the proposal is to weaken the successful CFPB into an unrecognizable husk incapable of protecting consumers.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

If the CFPB Is Weakened, Won’t the Credit Bureaus Run Amok (Again?) | Ed Mierzwinski

The CFPB is doing incredible work defending consumers. You may not know how much of that work involves cleaning up the sloppy credit bureaus. Congressional and special interest attacks on the CFPB will slow all or stop all CFPB work. It will let the bureaus run amok, again, placing your credit score and financial opportunity and job prospects at risk.

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