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 | 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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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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Letter: Protecting the FTC from Special Interest Attacks

While much of our work has been in defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), we also support the efforts of the over-100 year old Federal Trade Commission.

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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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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

New Report: Mortgage Problems Rank #1 at CFPB for Consumer Complaints

Mortgage problems were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by WISPIRG Foundation. The report also found that Bank of America was the most complained about company in Wisconsin for mortgage problems. 

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News Release | WISPIRG | Budget, Consumer Protection, Transportation

Gov. Walker Vetoes Payday Lending Grab-Bag, Misses the Mark on WisDOT Audit

MADISON - Governor Walker today signed Wisconsin’s 2015-17 biennial budget, announcing a list of line-item vetoes. Following widespread opposition, the Governor struck provisions that would have dramatically expanded payday lenders’ authority to sell predatory financial products to Wisconsin consumers. Governor Walker also vetoed a request that the Legislative Audit Committee conduct a performance evaluation of WisDOT’s State Highway Program, including a review of the Department’s questionable highway projections.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Budget, Consumer Protection

30 Groups Urge Assembly to Remove, Gov. Walker to Veto Payday Lender Grab-Bag in State Budget

coalition of 30 faith groups, low-income advocates and public interest lawyers and organizations is urging the Assembly to remove and, in the case of the chamber's inaction, Governor Walker to veto a set of sweeping budget provisions that would significantly expand the power of predatory payday lenders in Wisconsin. The final decision on the anti-consumer provisions will likely fall to the Governor, who is looking to sign the final budget document before announcing his run for President on Monday.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Transportation Budget Brings Much-Needed Scrutiny to Questionable Highway Projects

The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has taken a decisive step towards profoundly reforming Wisconsin’s transportation spending priorities. As part of the JFC’s budget motion approved today, legislators are calling for an audit of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s State Highway Program, and of WisDOT’s shaky traffic projections that have led to billions of dollars spent on questionable highway expansion projects over the past decade and a half.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Faith Leaders, Low-Income Advocates, Consumer Groups Call Out Rent-to-Own Exemptions in State Budget

At a Monday press conference, a broad coalition of faith groups, low-income advocates and public interest organizations warned against 11th-hour additions to the state budget that would exempt the rent-to-own industry from Wisconsin’s consumer protection laws.

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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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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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Blog Post | Public Health

U.S. PIRG Testifies in Favor of Strong Chemical Plant Safety Rule | Carli Jensen

Earlier this month, the EPA formally proposed a long-awaited rule on chemical plant safety in response to an executive order issued in 2013 by President Obama, which called on several agencies, including the EPA to modernize their chemical plant safety rules. The new proposed rule triggered a 60-day public comment period, and with it, a public hearing in Washington, D.C., where Legislative Director Jerry Slominski gave the following statement for U.S. PIRG:

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Blog Post | Transportation

Owning Fewer Cars Isn’t Just For Millennials | Sean Doyle

New transportation options are making it easier for people to use transit more, own fewer cars, and even save money on transportation.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

We oppose latest effort to weaken CFPB, other bank regulators | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the House Financial Services Committee holds its latest cattle-call markup of a package of industry-backed bills designed to weaken consumer, taxpayer, depositor and investor protections. We've signed a letter opposing the so-called TAILOR (Taking Account of Institutions with Low Operation Risk) Act, which piles redundant requirements onto the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other regulators to do what they already do by existing law--treat small banks and credit unions differently than mega-banks. Also, the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform sent up a letter opposing the TAILOR Act and 6 more of the 10 bills on the agenda because they are designed to weaken consumer, taxpayer, depositor and investor protections.

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