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 | Public Health

Home remodeling shouldn’t be a deadly project: Toxic paint removers being sold by Lowe’s and other stores | Dev Gowda

No one should lose a loved one to deadly chemicals. But right now you can walk into Lowe’s and other stores and buy paint removers containing highly toxic chemicals.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Grieving parents & health advocates urge Lowe’s to pull deadly paint strippers from store shelves

U.S. PIRG Education Fund joins Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, and the Natural Resources Defense Council in calling on Lowe’s to stop selling paint strippers made with methylene chloride and the chemical NMP.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Rollbacks of Consumer Protections Would Put Wisconsinites in a “Pit of Despair”

Faith leaders, community service providers and consumer advocates rallied on Tuesday, 3/27/2018, to speak out against proposed rollbacks of protections for payday and car title loan borrowers.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

More Info On Our Testing Methodology for Asbestos in Makeup

Claire’s Stores Inc. incorrectly claims that our testing methods are unsound. Its accusations are misinformed at best, and seem to be designed to distract from the bottom-line: that Claire’s is selling makeup that contains asbestos to preteens.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Grieving parents & health advocates urge Lowe’s to pull deadly paint strippers from store shelves

U.S. PIRG Education Fund joins Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, and the Natural Resources Defense Council in calling on Lowe’s to stop selling paint strippers made with methylene chloride and the chemical NMP.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Rollbacks of Consumer Protections Would Put Wisconsinites in a “Pit of Despair”

Faith leaders, community service providers and consumer advocates rallied on Tuesday, 3/27/2018, to speak out against proposed rollbacks of protections for payday and car title loan borrowers.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

More Info On Our Testing Methodology for Asbestos in Makeup

Claire’s Stores Inc. incorrectly claims that our testing methods are unsound. Its accusations are misinformed at best, and seem to be designed to distract from the bottom-line: that Claire’s is selling makeup that contains asbestos to preteens.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Public Health

“Leading on Lead” Bill’s Signing Means Progress for Public Health

Governor Walker today signed the “Leading on Lead” bill, legislation to allow water utilities to help pay for removal of lead service lines – the top source of lead contamination of drinking water. It was introduced last year by Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) with bipartisan support.

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Payday Loan Expansion Stopped

In July 2015, after WISPIRG convened a coalition of 30 groups to call for action, Gov. Scott Walker vetoed budget provisions that would have dramatically expanded payday lenders’ authority to sell predatory financial products to Wisconsin consumers. Payday loans trap consumers in a spiral of growing debt with detrimental impacts, particularly for low-income borrowers.

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Payday Loan Expansion Stopped

In July 2015, after WISPIRG convened a coalition of 30 groups to call for action, Gov. Scott Walker vetoed budget provisions that would have dramatically expanded payday lenders’ authority to sell predatory financial products to Wisconsin consumers. Payday loans trap consumers in a spiral of growing debt with detrimental impacts, particularly for low-income borrowers.

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Reforming Wisconsin’s Transportation Priorities

In 2015, WISPIRG and our coalition partners urged legislators to stop billion-dollar highway boondoggles, like the I-94 expansion, and our hard work paid off: The expansion of I-94 is on hold indefinitely, and we will work to stop it for good before the next budget debate begins in 2017. Just as significant is that legislators have taken up our call to examine the Department of Transportation’s flawed traffic forecasts by ordering an audit of the State Highway Program.

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Result | Democracy

Delivering one million petitions to President Obama on dark money

U.S. PIRG joined a broad coalition to deliver one million petitions from Americans, including U.S. PIRG members and supporters, calling on President Obama to shine a light on dark money, or secret political spending.

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30 years of toy safety

For the past thirty years, our sister organization U.S. PIRG Education Fund has taken a close look at the safety of toys sold in stores. Their reports have led to more than 150 regulatory actions. In November 2015, they released our 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health

In Your Face

The negative health effects of asbestos are well-known. Most people may associate asbestos contamination with the workplace or decades-old construction material, but alarmingly, recent media reports have found asbestos contamination in kids' makeup from popular stores. PIRG decided to do its own asbestos testing at an accredited laboratory.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Plugging In

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

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 once again looked for potentially unsafe toys. We discovered that unsafe toys remain widely available.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, the WISPIRG Foundation tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. The WISPIRG Foundation calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. We also call on the U.S.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health, Antibiotics

Chain Reaction III

The third annual Chain Reaction report, which grades companies on their antibiotics policies and practices, found that 14 out of the top 25 restaurants in the U.S. have taken steps to restrict the routine use of antibiotics in the production of the chicken they serve, up from nine just one year ago. While restaurant chains made great progress on chicken, the groups who authored the report found that there were no new commitments to limit antibiotic use in beef and pork.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Home remodeling shouldn’t be a deadly project: Toxic paint removers being sold by Lowe’s and other stores | Dev Gowda

No one should lose a loved one to deadly chemicals. But right now you can walk into Lowe’s and other stores and buy paint removers containing highly toxic chemicals.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

To Build A 21st Century America, Start Here | Jeff Robinson

The stakes in the current infrastructure debate are high. But what matters most is not the size of any federal infrastructure package, nor how it is financed, nor even how many jobs it creates in the coming years. What matters most is building the infrastructure that will enable America to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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Blog Post | Solid Waste

Why is it so hard to repair our stuff? | Nathan Proctor

We generate way too much waste, and companies use their power in the marketplace to make things harder to repair. That’s the idea behind “Right to Repair” laws -- they check companies ability to limit repairs and empower us to fix our own stuff. 

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Blog Post

States Can Give Bees A Safe Place To Exist | Kara Cook-Schultz

Bees are dying at unprecedented rates, with real consequences for our food supply, environment and economy. We're calling on states to take action. 

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

We Warn Congress: After Equifax, Firms Will Step Up Trojan Horse Efforts to Eliminate State Privacy Laws | Ed Mierzwinski

Like clockwork, after any big data breach is disclosed, powerful special interests seek to turn the problem into a bigger problem for consumers by  using it as an opportunity to enact some narrow federal legislation that broadly eliminates state data breach notice, state data security and other privacy protections.  I testified yesterday in the House warning of their Trojan Horse efforts, which not only take away existing laws, but deny any new laws, even on new problems identified. 

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