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

CFPB Is On The Job Protecting Consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

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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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health

Advocates Say It’s Time to Get the Lead out of School Drinking Water

Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, the WISPIRG Foundation today launched a new Get the Lead Out campaign. While highlighting positive steps taken by the Department of Natural Resources and cities across the state to remove lead pipes from schools, daycares and homes, a new analysis by the group gave Wisconsin’s state laws a grade of “F” for failing to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.

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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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Blog Post | Higher Ed

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

Nearly 60 student, consumer, and education groups signed on to this letter that was sent up to the Hill on Monday, February 13.  It calls for the CFPB to remain a strong, independent agency, so it can protect student loan borrowers (and taxpayers) from predatory lending tactics.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

Starbucks Ditches Routine Use of Medically Important Antibiotics in Poultry

Starbucks announced a commitment today to serve only poultry raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics in U.S. stores by 2020 after dialogue with Green Century Capital Management, a leader in environmentally responsible investing. The Seattle-based chain’s commitment may help push the meat industry further away from overusing life-saving medicines.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Executive Orders and New Bills Threaten Crucial Wall Street Reforms, Consumer Agency

The President signed executive orders on Friday designed to re-rig the financial system by dismantling critical Wall Street reforms, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB, a key Wall Street watchdog, is also under attack from Congress, where Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is spearheading efforts that would significantly limit the Bureau’s ability to protect seniors, veterans, students, middle class and low-income consumers from unfair and predatory financial practices.

WISPIRG Director Peter Skopec issued the following statement in response.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG, Consumer Advocates Join Fight to Protect CFPB in Court

Today, U.S. PIRG, Americans for Financial Reform, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for Responsible Lending, Self-Help Credit Union and Maeve Elise Brown, who chairs the CFPB Consumer Advisory Board, filed a motion with the DC Circuit, US Court of Appeals for leave to intervene in PHH vs. CFPB, a lawsuit challenging the CFPB's single-director structure. Today, Senator Sherrod Brown (OH) and Rep. Maxine Waters (CA), ranking members of the Senate Banking and House Financial Services Committees, also filed a similar motion. Earlier this week, 17 state Attorneys General filed a similar motion on behalf of their citizens. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

CFPB Taps Former Pentagon Legal Official to Head Office of Servicemember Affairs

We join National Consumer Law Center, Americans for Financial Reform and other leading groups in a release commending the appointment of senior Pentagon official Colonel Paul Kantwill (U.S. Army, Retired) to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Office of Servicemember Affairs. The CFPB plays an important role in protecting servicemembers, veterans and their families from financial predators.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Yahoo Data Breach Presents Opportunity for Strong Response

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on the latest announced Yahoo data breach.

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Result | Democracy

Giving more Americans a greater voice in our elections

In our democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the volume of your voice. In 2015, we helped win reforms in Maine and Seattle to ensure that more Americans have a greater say in our elections. Seattle’s Initiative-122 empowers small donors with “democracy vouchers” that can be donated to local candidates and lowers the cap on contributions. In Maine, the state’s Clean Elections Act was improved by strengthening campaign finance disclosure laws and offering qualifying candidates increased public funding.

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Result | Public Health

Convincing McDonald’s and Subway to protect public health

In 2015, bolstered by the support of more than 100,000 members and supporters, we convinced both McDonald’s and Subway to take action to protect public health. In March, just two days after we delivered more than 30,000 petitions to McDonald’s headquarters, the company announced that they would stop serving chicken raised on medically-important antibiotics. And in October, after more than 100,000 called on the chain to take action, Subway announced a similar policy for all the meat they serve.

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Result | Higher Ed

Protecting students from unfair bank fees

We helped win protections for students from unfair fees associated with campus bank accounts. The new rules, released by the U.S. Department of Education, ban some of the worst and most predatory fees that students encounter from banks.

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Victory: CFPB Director Confirmed

On July 16, 2013, the U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, giving the bureau its full authority to protect consumers in the financial marketplace and to oversee payday lenders, mortgage companies, private student lenders and credit bureaus. 

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WISPIRG Blocks Predatory Rent-To-Own Bill

In May 2013, WISPIRG helped defeat a provision that would have given special treatment to the predatory rent-to-own industry, which charges astronomical annual interest rates to rent used or older model products. WISPIRG joined with State Sen. Glenn Grothman, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, and numerous faith and civic leaders to oppose a special interest exemption that would have eliminated the requirement that rent-to-own businesses disclose an APR.
 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Outside Influence: Out-of-state money in the 2016 senate elections

Control of the United States Senate is at stake in the 2016 elections. Out of 34 senate races nationally, the outcome could be decided by just several swing states and a few key constituencies. But there is another deciding factor in this year’s race for the senate: money.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

Predatory Loans & Predatory Loan Complaints

This is the seventh in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB. In this report we explore consumer complaints about predatory loans, categorized in the database as payday loans, installment loans, and auto title loans. This is our first report to incorporate an analysis of consumer narratives or written explanations of problems—an addition to the database we advocated for with Americans for Financial Reform and achieved last year.

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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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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Stop Payday Predators

Payday loans are among the most predatory forms of credit on the market. Though they are marketed as having “reasonable” fees or charges, typical interest rates exceed 300 percent. And because the payday lenders’ bottom line actually depends on borrowers’ inability to repay — most payday fees come from borrowers who take out more than 10 loans a year — they target people with low incomes and no other options.

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Report | WISPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2015

For 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.

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Blog Post | Democracy

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

There’s a lot unfolding in Washington, D.C., right now, and you may be wondering: “What can I do to voice my concerns?”

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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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Report Finds 1 In 4 Consumers Feel "Threatened" By Debt Collector Tactics | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine for release of new CFPB data on debt collector abuses. Fully 1 in 4 consumers feel "threatened" by abusive, possibly illegal, debt collector tactics. The release also included an emphasis on problems with the "debt buyer" industry, comprised of firms that buy older, uncollected debt for as little as less than a penny on the dollar.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Slams Two Credit Bureaus For Deceptive Marketing, Expect Experian Next | Ed Mierzwinski

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nailed two "big 3" credit bureaus --Trans Union and Equifax -- for deceptive marketing of their over-priced, under-performing credit monitoring subscription products.  Combined fines and consumer restitution total $23 million. I predict that the CFPB will also bring a case against the remaining bureau, Experian, and that it will pay much more, because Experian really has led the way in aggressively marketing these tawdry products. They don't prevent identity theft, nor do they always accurately disclose your credit score, at fees of up to $16.95/month or more. Yikes!

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This New Year, Celebrate the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, we published our 8th report based on analyzing consumer complaints collected in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database. The release of "Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees" provides a good year-end opportunity to summarize a few of the reasons to be thankful for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over in July 2011 as the first federal regulator with just one job: protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. The idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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