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

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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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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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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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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Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

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Protecting Wisconsin Kids from Toxic BPA

WISPIRG played a key role in 2010 in making Wisconsin the third state to ban bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical linked to cancer and obesity, from baby bottles and sippy cups.

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Result | Tax

Closing a Corporate Tax Loophole

WISPIRG advocacy contributed to closing a corporate tax loophole that levels the playing field for Wisconsin-based businesses by preventing multi-state companies from using out-of-state subsidiaries to avoid paying their taxes.

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Result | Democracy

Registering Young Voters

During the past four election cycles, WISPIRG’s New Voters Project has registered more than 160,000 18- to 24-year-olds and increased voter participation among young voters.

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Protecting Consumers from Unsafe Products

In the wake of the “Year of the Recall,” the largest overhaul in the history of the Consumer Product Safety Commission was signed into law on Aug. 14, 2008. The WISPIRG-backed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will help make products across the country safer — far less likely to trigger the massive recalls we saw a year ago and, more importantly, far less likely to cause harm to children.

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Pioneering Prescription Drug Reform

In 2007, the president signed a WISPIRG-backed law to rein in the makers of drugs like Vioxx, Paxil and Avandia, all of which had dangerous and deadly side effects. The bill reforms the Food and Drug Administration’s drug safety review process, makes drugs safer, and holds drug makers more accountable for the safety of consumers.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

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Report | WISPIRG | Democracy

The Money Chase

Five years after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, what are the roles of large donors and average voters in selecting and supporting candidates for Congress? This report examines the role of money in the 2014 congressional elections from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives, and demonstrates how matching small political contributions with limited public funds can change the campaign landscape for grassroots candidates.

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Report | WISPIRG | Transportation

The Rehab-Transit Option:

With the publication of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has taken another big step forward in its drive to widen I-94 in Milwaukee’s East-West Corridor.  They have dismissed, rather peremptorily, other options for the future.   The purpose of this paper is not to criticize WisDOT’s chosen option but to demonstrate that another option – called here the “Rehab/Transit Option” – is not only feasible, but is in fact a better choice for the future of Milwaukee’s East-West Corridor.  

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Report | WISPIRG | Transportation

A Better Solution for the I-94 East-West Corridor

Check out the map for our proposed Better Solution for the I-94 East-West Corridor: "Rehab/Transit" Alternative 

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: By the numbers | Kathryn Lee

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a breakdown of their successes they’ve had in the short five-year period they’ve been established. We're very proud to have been a part of building it and defending it; we're also very proud of the many achievements the youthful CFPB has made to make the financial marketplace fairer for consumers.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Calling for Big Action on Antibiotics in the Big Apple | Steve Blackledge

Last week, we were in New York City, where the United Nations General Assembly spent an entire day discussing antibiotic resistance, “the biggest threat to modern medicine.” Experts estimate that more than 700,000 people worldwide die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year, including 23,000 in the United States—a number that could grow to 10 million globally by 2050.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Will Wells Fargo CEO Tell Senate "No Clawbacks" of Exec's Golden Parachute? | Ed Mierzwinski

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf goes before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday (9/20) to explain the recent $185 million in combined civil penalties by the CFPB and other regulators over a sales goals incentive scandal that led to employees opening some 2 million fake, secret accounts without the knowledge of customers. How will he respond to the growing public clamor for a clawback of bonuses paid his top retail executive Carrie Tolstedt, whose retirement with a $125 million golden parachute package had been announced earlier this summer? 

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Blog Post | Budget, Transportation

Community Forums this Fall: Transportation and Equity in Wisconsin | Peter Skopec

This fall, WISPIRG and our partners at the Sierra Club, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and WISDOM are hosting a series of community events across Wisconsin. As state leaders begin to debate the future of transportation funding in Wisconsin, we'll explore the impacts of the transportation system on communities in our state and discuss the importance of investing in local priorities. Join us for an event near you by RSVPing at tinyurl.com/TranspoForumsWI!

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Wall Street Ramps Up Attacks on Wall Street Reform | Ed Mierzwinski

On Friday, the House overwhelmingly approved a Wall Street-driven proposal to weaken oversight of private equity firms, taking a chunk out of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. But wait, there's so much more: On Tuesday the House Financial Services Committee takes up the so-called "Financial Choice Act," which eviscerates most of Dodd-Frank's key reforms, from stripping powers of the Financial Stability Oversight Council to repealing the Volcker Rule, which reins in risky betting practices that use depositors' money. As for the CFPB (which just this week issued its biggest fine to date, $100 million against Wells Fargo Bank for opening hundreds of thousands of fake and secret consumer accounts to meet sales goals), the proposal would defund and defang it and delay or stop its efforts to rein in unfair practices of payday lenders, debt collectors and banks. Many of the Financial Choice Act's provisions also pose threats as budget bill "riders."

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Defend the CFPB

Tell your senators to oppose the “Financial CHOICE Act,” which would gut Wall Street reforms and destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as we know it.

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