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 | 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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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2016

For over 30 years, the WISPIRG Foundation has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

This year, WISPIRG Foundation staff examined toys recalled by the CPSC between January 2015 and October 2016 and looked at whether they appeared to still be available for sale online. 

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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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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Outside Influence: Out-of-state money in the 2016 senate elections

Control of the United States Senate is at stake in the 2016 elections. Out of 34 senate races nationally, the outcome could be decided by just several swing states and a few key constituencies. But there is another deciding factor in this year’s race for the senate: money.

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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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News Release | WISPIRG | Financial Reform

Bills Would Encourage Predatory Lawsuits Against WI Consumers

A pair of bills currently making its way through the state legislature would drastically reduce the proof requirements for debt collection lawsuits against Wisconsin consumers and open the door for out-of-state debt buyer companies to clog the state’s courts with unsubstantiated, frivolous lawsuits. Senate Bill 92 is to be heard in committee on Tuesday, 12/15. Its Assembly companion, AB 117, was passed in November. Governor Walker’s Department of Financial Institutions voiced serious concerns about a similar bill in 2014.

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News Release | WISPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on Wisconsin store shelves, according WISPIRG Foundation’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys concludes that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

Medical Professionals Call for Action to Save Antibiotics

Nearly six hundred medical and health care professionals from across the nation are calling on major restaurant chains to set strong antibiotics policies that protect public health.

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News Release | WisPIRG | Consumer Protection

Volkswagen’s $1000 Gift Cards Fall Short

Statement by Peter Skopec, WisPIRG Director, on Volkswagen’s offer of $1,000 in gift cards to customers affected by its emission scandal.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Report: Consumers Should Get Security Freezes Before Next Data Breach

A report and consumer fact sheet released today by the WISPIRG Foundation aim to increase the awareness and use of the security freeze, also known as a credit freeze. The report explains that the freeze is the only security measure that can prevent new account identity theft.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Transportation in Transition

Americans’ transportation habits have changed. The average American drives 7.6 percent fewer miles today than when per-capita driving peaked in 2004. A review of data from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration and Census Bureau for America’s 100 most populous urbanized areas – which are home to over half of the nation’s population – shows that the decline in per-capita driving has taken place in a wide variety of regions.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, WISPIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes

This report is the third of several that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about credit bureaus with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with credit reporting.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Food

Food Safety Scares 2013

This report offers a snapshot look, from October 2012 to October 2013, at multistate foodborne illness outbreaks identified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Failures in the rules and processes that protect our food supply have led to numerous serious outbreaks over the past year that left many Americans sickened and at least 2 dead. The economic cost of just the multistate outbreaks caused by food products recalled over the past 12 months comes to more than $22 million.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

Private Loans, Public Complaints

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis in decades. Its mission is to identify dangerous and unfair financial practices, to educate consumers about these practices, and to regulate the financial institutions that perpetuate them.  This report is the second of several that will review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level.

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Video Blog | Consumer Protection

John Oliver Takes Aim At Credit Reports In 'Last Week Tonight'

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver explained how credit reports play a surprisingly large role in our lives, but even more surprising is how often they contain critical mistakes. John Oliver helps credit bureaus see why this is a problem – and that Judy still hasn’t been able to resolve her mixed up identity.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Time To Defend CFPB as Senate Banking Committee Aims Sights at It | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED 12 April: The Senate Banking Committee held a stacked hearing on "Assessing Consumer Regulations" yesterday (5 April), although our one pro-consumer witness and pro-CFPB Senators defended consumer protection ably as three industry-backed witnesses and their supporters on the committee had a great deal of trouble proving their case that the CFPB should be dismantled. Tomorrow morning, (7 April) CFPB Director Richard Cordray will present the statutory "Semi-Annual Report of the CFPB" to the committee. We submitted a statement to be entered into the hearing record, as did other Americans for Financial Reform coalition members.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

What is payday lending? | Kathryn Lee

We are a leading member of Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition that was instrumental in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by Congress in 2010. The CFPB is currently working on a rule to reign in the payday lending industry. We, along with AFR, are working to make sure the rule is a strong one. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Lowering your APR might be easier than you think | Kathryn Lee

Many Americans are walking around with a balance on their credit card because of high interest rates, or annual percentage rate (APR) charges for unpaid balances. It's best to pay off your balance in full but if you don't or can't, a higher APR makes your debit grow faster. What most people don’t realize is this APR can be negotiated to a lower rate.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Flint Pediatrician Gave a Voice to the Voiceless in Flint, Michigan | Anna Low-Beer

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is the Flint pediatrician who led the charge in proving that Flint water was tainted by lead and was poisoning the community. Without her drive and dedication to the children of Flint, it is hard to say how long government officials might have left the public in the dark about the mounting crisis. In honor of Women’s History Month we’re recognizing Dr. Hanna-Attisha -- a doctor, mother, and activist -- who has relentlessly fought for the public interest. 

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