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

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Antibiotics

Consumer campaign calls on Wendy’s to “hold the antibiotics” from its beef supply chain

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Food

California avocados second major recall in less than a week

Henry Avocado Corporation is recalling avocados potentially contaminated with the deadly listeria bacteria. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG said in a statement: “We are barely getting a chance to breath between recalls."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Tyson chicken strips recalled, may contain pieces of metal

Just seven weeks after Tyson Foods recalled chicken nuggets that could contain rubber, the poultry giant is recalling chicken strips that might contain metal. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Boeing Max planes have ‘optional’ safety mechanisms

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Antibiotics

EPA proposes use of 650,000 pounds of antibiotics a year on citrus fields

Public health and environmental groups urge EPA to deny antibiotic use on citrus.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Budget, Transportation

Study finds public transit, walking and biking options could help keep Millennials in Wisconsin

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

Remembering John Dingell

A personal remembrance from Katie Murtha, who serves as vice president of federal government affairs for U.S. PIRG and Environment America, both members of The Public Interest Network. Katie was formerly chief of staff for U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who passed away Thursday.

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Result | Democracy

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Result | Public Health

Convincing McDonald’s and Subway to protect public health

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Result | Higher Ed

Protecting students from unfair bank fees

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Victory: CFPB Director Confirmed

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WISPIRG Blocks Predatory Rent-To-Own Bill

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 4

America’s infrastructure is in rough shape. Many of our roads, bridges and transit systems are aging and in need of repair. Yet, year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars’ worth of new and expanded highways that often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and 21st century transportation priorities. 

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Electric Buses

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Debt Collectors

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Shining A Light on Consumer Problems:

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Budget

Following the Money 2018

State-operated transparency websites provide checkbook-level detail on government spending, allowing citizens and watchdog groups to view payments made to individual companies, details on purchased goods or services, and benefits obtained in exchange for public subsidies. This analysis – the WISPIRG Foundation’s eighth evaluation of state transparency websites – finds that despite continued improvements in transparency websites, states still have a long way to go in making critical data about state spending truly accessible to the public. 

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Blog Post | Transportation

Transit, biking and walking options could keep millennials in Wisconsin

If we want Wisconsin's young adults to stay here—and improve the quality of life for everyone in our state—we should offer better transportation options.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Menards joins other home improvement stores in ditching deadly paint strippers

 

Dozens have died from the chemical fumes of toxic paint strippers sold in stores across America, but now Menards is joining other home improvement retailers in attempting to stop that number from growing.

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Zero Hunger campaign aims to end hunger on 10 college campuses

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Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

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More than 10,000 people pledge to skip the straw

More than 10,000 Americans said "no" to plastic straws in February. Feb. 22 marked the third annual national Skip the Straw Day—a day created by Michigan middle school students who were fed up with plastic pollution and its impact on wildlife and the planet.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Transit, biking and walking options could keep millennials in Wisconsin

If we want Wisconsin's young adults to stay here—and improve the quality of life for everyone in our state—we should offer better transportation options.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Menards joins other home improvement stores in ditching deadly paint strippers

 

Dozens have died from the chemical fumes of toxic paint strippers sold in stores across America, but now Menards is joining other home improvement retailers in attempting to stop that number from growing.

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Zero Hunger campaign aims to end hunger on 10 college campuses

From Oregon to Kentucky, California to Maryland, students at college campuses across the country are teaming up to end student hunger by cutting food waste.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

Talk about a captive market: For most of us, it's next to impossible to work, shop or go to school without a car. Auto lenders are taking full advantage.

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Blog Post | Solid Waste

More than 10,000 people pledge to skip the straw

More than 10,000 Americans said "no" to plastic straws in February. Feb. 22 marked the third annual national Skip the Straw Day—a day created by Michigan middle school students who were fed up with plastic pollution and its impact on wildlife and the planet.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Fisher-Price recalled 4.7 million Rock n’Play baby sleepers on Friday. U.S. PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber issued a response: "“While we’re pleased that Fisher-Price is finally recalling these dangerous sleepers, 30 deaths in 10 years is 30 deaths too many and 10 years too late."

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In what we hope will be a bellwether ruling, another jury has found Roundup to be a "substantial factor" in causing a man's cancer.

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Nearly a year after a report by our partners at U.S. PIRG Education Fund found asbestos in its children’s makeup products, Claire’s agreed to take action.

News Release

Read U.S. PIRG's statement on Wells Fargo eliminating some fees for student on debit cards.

Consumer Protection | U.S. PIRG

Campus debit cards cost students over $24 million in fees

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Antibiotics | U.S. PIRG

Hold the antibiotics Wendy's

A recent estimate suggests that as many as 162,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year. Wendy's can help protect our life-saving medicines if it stops serving beef raised on routine antibiotics.

 

Solid Waste | U.S. PIRG

Let's move beyond plastic

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Consumer Protection | U.S. PIRG

The real price of medications

The results of our investigation of variations in prescription drug prices may surprise you.

 
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