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 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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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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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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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 | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health

Public Interest Group, Local Doctor and Farmer Call on Culver’s to Help Save Antibiotics

Today WISPIRG Foundation staff and volunteers launched a new consumer campaign that will call on Culver’s, home to the regionally renowned Butterburger, to stop selling meat raised with the routine use of antibiotics. UW Professor Emerita Carol Spiegel and Sauk County farmer Jim Goodman spoke about the urgent need to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use on livestock, and about how doing so will help preserve these life-saving medicines for future generations.

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health, Food

Taco Bell Moves Away From Chicken Raised on Medically Important Antibiotics

Taco Bell will no longer serve chicken raised on medically important antibiotics in U.S. locations starting in 2017. The announcement was included in a release from Taco Bell’s parent company Yum! Brands, and comes amid widespread consumer demand and concern from the medical community about the overuse of antibiotics on livestock and poultry. Taco Bell’s announcement will put major market pressure on the meat industry to stop overusing antibiotics and should push its partner brands KFC and Pizza Hut to have stronger commitments as well. 

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

The Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule for Investment Advice

U.S. PIRG federal legislative director Jerry Slominski on The Release of the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule for Investment Advice

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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

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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

House Launches Frenzy of Attacks on CFPB, Public Protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Today and tomorrow the House floor showcases a variety of special-interest backed bills designed to eliminate public protections and weaken financial reform. Action starts soon with an attempt to override the President's veto of legislation to wipe away a new Department of Labor rule designed to protect hard-earned retirement savings from Wall Streeters seeking their "share" of your own share. Then, the House will consider the massive FSGG Appropriations bill, which rolls back the independence and authority of the CFPB and other financial reforms. Finally, they've teed up a bill to eliminate the Supreme Court's long-standing "Chevron doctrine," which says that courts must defer to expert agencies in certain circumstances. Without the doctrine in place, polluters and wrongdoers will have more opportunities to challenge public protections.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Antibiotics

Grilling to protect public health | Anya Vanecek

With antibiotics, we can all enjoy the summer free from the worry that a stumble on the sidewalk or a minor burn from the grill could turn into a serious illness. So what could be a better centerpiece to the picnic table than meat raised without routine antibiotics?

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Blog Post | Democracy

Six Twitter users to follow for all things democracy

This election cycle news about money in politics, election fiascos and voting rights is breaking at the speed of, well, Twitter. If you want to stay up-to-date, we’ve got your back.

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