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 | 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 | 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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Blog Post | Health Care

PIRG applauds decisions blocking health insurance mega-mergers | Jesse Ellis O'Brien

This week, in a big win for consumers, a district court took action to block the proposed merger between health insurance giants Anthem and Cigna. This decision follows a ruling last month that blocked the proposed merger of two more of the nation’s biggest for-profit health insurers, Aetna and Humana. These decisions come after months of work by U.S. PIRG and a broad coalition of consumer and health care groups, urging close scrutiny of the mergers from state and federal regulators and raising questions and concerns about the potential impact of the mergers.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Overdrafts continue to hit students hard on campus

Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a report shining a spotlight on contracts between banks and colleges to promote debit cards on campus.  Students continue to get hit hard with overdraft fees attached to their campus bank accounts. According to the report, nearly one in ten consumers in the population with student accounts incurred 10 or more  overdrafts per year, paying, on average, $196 in overdraft fees alone. Below is a detailed analysis by US. PIRG's Chris Lindstrom, who championed the protections that the CFPB is reporting on. This report is one more example of why we need a strong CFPB. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Consumer Advocates Concerned By Court Ruling Overturning Ban on High-Powered Magnets

We've joined leading consumer and pediatrician organizations in a joint news release with a sharp critique of a U.S. appellate court decision overturning a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ban on the sale of high-powered small magnets (some as small as BBs) that pose a severe ingestion problem for children and youth. As our Trouble In Toyland report released on November 22 pointed out: "Nearly 80 percent of high-powered magnet ingestions require invasive medical intervention, either through an endoscopy, surgery, or both. In comparison, only 10 to 20 percent of other foreign body ingestions require endoscopic intervention and almost none require surgery."

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

REPORT: 61% of Money in WI Senate Race Comes from Out-of-State

A new report by the WISPIRG Foundation and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that 77 percent of funding in the 34 U.S. senate races happening nationwide comes from out-of-state. Outside Influence: Out-of-State Money in the 2016 Senate Elections highlights the share of money that candidates, PACs, super PACs, and party committees have raised from outside the state they are spending on. In Wisconsin, the report finds that 61 percent of election funding in this year’s U.S. senate race comes from out-of-state.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

More Than 350,000 Urge KFC to Prevent Abuse of Antibiotics in Its Chicken Supply

Today, representatives from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Food Animals Concern Trust (FACT) will deliver more than 350,000 petitions from consumers nationwide to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s (KFC) headquarters in Louisville, while calling on the nation’s largest fried chicken chain to end the routine use of antibiotics by chicken producers in its supply chain. The petition signatures were also collected by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and CREDO Action. 

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Result | Democracy

Enforcing Wisconsin's Ethics Laws

In 2007, a WISPIRG-backed bill enforcing our state’s ethics laws was passed and signed into law. The new legislation promotes more vigorous enforcement of Wisconsin’s state ethics code and campaign finance laws.

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Result | Higher Ed

Standing Up For Students, Not Lenders

We helped pass the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, the most meaningful higher education reform in more than 15 years. The legislation gives billions of dollars in additional aid to students through the Pell Grant program. The bill is funded by reducing wasteful lender subsidies.

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Stopping Identity Theft

A WISPIRG-backed bill to give consumers the ability to freeze their credit reports was signed into law in 2006. The law will allow consumers to lock out identity thieves, and further protect themselves from fraud.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

In 2014, large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more. Candidates alone got 84 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

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Report | WISPIRG and Consumers Union | Public Health

Prescription For Change

Our September 2014 survey of physicians paints a grim picture of the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections. The overwhelming majority of surveyed doctors reported that one or more of their patients had been diagnosed with a presumed or confirmed case of a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection in the past twelve months. They also expressed concern about the use of antibiotics in livestock production facilities on healthy animals in order to promote growth and prevent disease.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country. While some states show markedly more inequity than others, the picture painted by the data is of a primary money race where large donors carry more weight than ordinary Americans. Nationwide, just under two-thirds of all candidate contributions came from the largest donors (those giving over $1,000). And fewer than 5,500 large donors matched the primary contributions coming from at least 440,000 donors nationwide.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving. Now is the time for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles

Even though the Driving Boom is now over, state and federal governments continue to pour vast sums of money into the construction of new highways and expansion of old ones – at the expense of urgent needs such as road and bridge repairs, improvements in public transportation and other transportation priorities. Eleven proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $13 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Good news! CFPB Adding Consumer Ratings of Company Responses to Complaint Database | Ed Mierzwinski

The CFPB is making a good public consumer complaint database better. In 2015, the CFPB added optional consumer narratives, or stories, to its public consumer complaint database, giving other consumers, researchers and even other firms a new way to help study complaint patterns. Now, it will give consumers a chance to “rate the company’s handling of his or her complaint on a one-to-five scale and provide a narrative description in support of the rating.”

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Stop Payday Loan Sharks: Submit Your Comment Here | Peter Skopec

This opportunity doesn’t come around very often: we have a chance to stop the payday loan debt trap. Submit a public comment in favor of a strong payday loan rule here.

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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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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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