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 | 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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

WI Members of Congress Move to Dismantle Dodd-Frank, Predatory Lending Protections

A wave of attacks on consumer protections and financial regulation is coming through Congress this week, some led by Wisconsin legislators. Consumer advocates and faith leaders highlighted the impacts these attacks would have on Wisconsinites, should they move forward.

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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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News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy

Seven Years After Citizens United, Reforms Advance Around the Country

Seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, more money than ever is pouring into election races. The Court’s decision has also led to a powerful grassroots response that is making big gains for campaign finance reform around the country. More than 100 communities in Wisconsin and eighteen states have passed resolutions or referenda to overturn Citizens United, while others have enacted reforms empowering everyday voters over big donors in elections.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

New U.N. Report: We Can Feed The World Without Using Pesticides

A report released today by the United Nations finds that it is a “myth” that pesticides are needed to feed the world’s 7 billion people. Farmers can produce healthier, nutrient-rich food, with higher yields in the longer term, without the use of pesticides.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Court to Rehear CFPB’s Constitutionality

Statement by Mike Landis, Litigation Director at U.S. PIRG, about today’s decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear en banc the panel ruling against the CFPB’s independent leadership. 

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

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News Release | Public Health

Statement on Unilever’s Decision to Disclose Fragrance Ingredients in Personal Care Products

WISPIRG applauds personal care product giant Unilever US, the maker of popular brands like Dove and Axe, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in its personal care brands.

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One Year Anniversary of CFPB

 

 

 

For the first time, a federal financial agency has placed consumers at the center of its work. That agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), turns one year old on July 21, 2012. The CFPB, established as a centerpiece of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, is the first federal financial agency with only one job: protecting consumers. It has special responsibilities to protect seniors, military servicemembers and students. The CFPB is also tasked with ensuring fair lending and promoting financial education and literacy. The CFPB protects you no matter where you buy financial products—at a bank, at a credit union, at a mortgage company or a payday lender.

 

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Keeping Kids’ School Lunches Safe

For years, Wisconsin’s schoolchildren ate substandard chicken and beef—of such poor quality that fast-food chains wouldn’t even serve it. WISPIRG stood up for kids, and the USDA set stronger standards for school lunches.

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Result | Budget

Making Government More Transparent

WISPIRG advocacy led to the creation of a state website giving Wisconsin taxpayers easily accessible information about state expenditures, providing taxpayers with easily searchable, checkbook-level detail of state expenditures and detailed information about all state contracts.

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Result | Health Care

More Affordable Health Care

We fought hard to make sure the new health care law favors programs that reward quality care and includes steps to contain costs and cut red tape. We continue our work to keep those measures strong.

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A VICTORY FOR CONSUMERS OVER WALL STREET

Even after the financial crisis, lobbyists for the big banks and credit card companies furiously opposed proconsumer provisions in the Wall Street reform law. Over their objections, WISPIRG helped convince Congress to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

The Security Freeze

The first defense against any kind of identity theft is to be vigilant about protecting your personal information by taking steps like creating secure passwords, installing anti-virus and anti-malware software, and shredding personal documents. (See Appendix A for more tips on protecting your personal information.) However, if and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit identity theft, there is really only one type that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

This is the sixth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about mortgages, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with mortgage originators and servicers.

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Report | WISPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Wisconsin’s Transportation Budget

As statewide transportation trends change and infrastructure throughout Wisconsin crumbles, demands on the state’s transportation budget are growing. The proposed 2015-17 biennial transportation budget recommends increasing bonding for transportation to a total of $1.3 billion for the next two years, while failing to address crucial transportation needs -- particularly at the local level. Wisconsin needs a more responsible alternative.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Budget, Transportation

Who Pays for Roads?

Many Americans believe that drivers pay the full cost of the roads they use through gas taxes and other user fees. That has never been true, and it is less true now than at any other point in modern times.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform, Tax

Picking Up The Tab 2015

Every year, corporations and wealthy individuals use complicated gimmicks to shift U.S. earnings to subsidiaries in offshore tax havens – countries with minimal or no taxes – in order to reduce their federal and state income tax liabilities by billions of dollars. While tax haven abusers benefit from America’s markets, public infrastructure, educated workforce, security and rule of law – all supported in one way or another by tax dollars – they continue to avoid paying for these benefits.

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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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Blog Post | Antibiotics

Another (yes, another) reason to stop overusing antibiotics | Matthew Wellington

Researchers from The Ohio State University published a report today about the discovery of E-coli bacteria resistant to the antibiotic carbapenem in an Ohio swine facility. Uh oh.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Addicted to Hand Sanitizer: A Wells Fargo Scandal Update | Ed Mierzwinski

More questions continue to be raised about the Wells Fargo scandal. When did it really start- 2013, 2011 or 2005? What did execs know and when did they know it? How many frontline employees were fired because they complained as whistleblowers? Does setting up a fake account constitute criminal identity theft? Should deposed chairman and CEO John Stumpf go to jail? If the culture was pure, how did a frontline worker get "addicted to (drinking) hand sanitizer? Should he pay back more bonus compensation? Here's a flyaround of some of what's going on. By the way, did you know that even the Better Business Bureau has thrown Wells out?

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