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

News Release | Public Health

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

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

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WISPIRG Director Peter Skopec issued the following statement in response.

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Blog Post | Democracy

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG, Consumer Advocates Join Fight to Protect CFPB in Court

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Joint Statement Opposing Exceptions to CFPB Payday Rule

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Privacy, Consumer Groups Critical of Facial Recognition Report

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

National Payday Lending Rule Could Protect Wisconsinites from Predatory Loans

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Faith Leaders, Advocates Release New Fact Sheet Detailing the Impact of Payday Lending on Wisconsinites

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health

Weak Medicine

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people per year in the United States, causing more than 23,000 deaths. State governments, the FDA and other branches of the federal government should take steps to protect human health from the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can develop on factory farms.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Fork in the Road

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health

Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Factory Farms

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Budget

Offshore Shell Games 2014

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Driving Wisconsin's "Brain Drain"

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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

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Blog Post | Transportation

Clean Transportation Doesn’t Need To Be A Distant Utopia | John Olivieri

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Blog Post | Public Health

What’s that toxic smell? One Father Clashes with the Chemical Industry | Anna Low-Beer

The movie Stink! originated with one pair of children’s pajamas that Director John Whelan bought his daughters for Christmas in 2011. The new pajamas, when taken out of their plastic packaging, smelled overwhelmingly of chemicals. That one smell prompted Whelan to look deeper into fragrance and the chemical industry’s use of secret and often toxic chemicals in our everyday products. He simply wanted to know – what’s in the stuff we buy? “It seemed like a common-sense question to ask…I’m just trying to find out what chemicals they would put on kids’ pajamas,” he said. A common-sense question, yes. One with a simple answer? Not so much. 

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