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 Depot misses deadline to get toxic paint strippers off store shelves

Dozens of people have died. Yet in January, Home Depot was still selling the products that led to their deaths.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

How safe is our food? Not safe enough, says PIRG Consumer Watchdog team, and it's trending in the wrong direction

Unsafe food recalls in the U.S. are trending the wrong way. From 2013 to 2017, they rose 10 percent overall, and a whopping 83 percent for the most hazardous meat and poultry recalls.

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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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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: U.S. Consumer Bureau gives payday debt traps its seal of approval

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today released a proposal for gutting its own payday lending borrower protections, which were originally set to go into effect this August. “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under Director Kathy Kraninger, has officially given payday debt traps its seal of approval," said WISPIRG Director Peter Skopec. "Today’s proposal is a reckless rubber-stamping of predatory lending."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Antibiotics

Fast food and football: who scores, who fumbles?

With Super Bowl LIII coming up Sunday, Americans have foods such as hamburgers and pizza on their minds -- and many corporations (such as Budweiser) are touting their socially-responsible deeds in commercials.

But many corporate deeds go under the radar. In late January, two companies closely identified with football made big plays. One scored. One fumbled.

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

Fiat Chrysler Settlement Fails to Protect Consumers

While we are glad that Fiat Chrysler is paying something for damaging the health of Americans and deceiving customers, this settlement does not go far enough. It neither ensures these violations of the public trust won’t happen again nor makes consumers whole.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Transportation

WISPIRG Statement on Nomination of Craig Thompson to WISDOT Secretary

Governor-elect Tony Evers this morning nominated Craig Thompson, executive director of the roadbuilding and transportation infrastructure advocacy group TDA, to run the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. WISPIRG Director Peter Skopec issued the following statement in response to Gov.-elect Evers’ announcement.

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

McDonald’s Takes Step to Protect Public Health, Commits to Reduce Medically Important Antibiotic Use in Beef Supply

McDonald's Commits to Reducing Medically Important Antibiotic Use in its Beef Supply Chain 

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

New car seats made without toxic flame-retardant chemicals

Car seats are supposed to keep our youngest children safe. But though they may protect infants and toddlers during accidents, car seats have a history of containing toxic flame-retardant chemicals.

That’s finally changing.

Today, a coalition of groups including U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Ecology Center’s “Healthy Stuff” program released test results on car seats in a new report, Hidden Hazards:Flame Retardants and PFAS in Children’s Car Seats. The authors collaborated with researchers from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame.

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

Popular toys contain toxics and other hazards

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. U.S. PIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues, in slime products as well as fining that Amazon failed to appropriately label choking hazards.

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Result | Democracy

Giving more Americans a greater voice in our elections

In our democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the volume of your voice. In 2015, we helped win reforms in Maine and Seattle to ensure that more Americans have a greater say in our elections. Seattle’s Initiative-122 empowers small donors with “democracy vouchers” that can be donated to local candidates and lowers the cap on contributions. In Maine, the state’s Clean Elections Act was improved by strengthening campaign finance disclosure laws and offering qualifying candidates increased public funding.

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Result | Public Health

Convincing McDonald’s and Subway to protect public health

In 2015, bolstered by the support of more than 100,000 members and supporters, we convinced both McDonald’s and Subway to take action to protect public health. In March, just two days after we delivered more than 30,000 petitions to McDonald’s headquarters, the company announced that they would stop serving chicken raised on medically-important antibiotics. And in October, after more than 100,000 called on the chain to take action, Subway announced a similar policy for all the meat they serve.

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Result | Higher Ed

Protecting students from unfair bank fees

We helped win protections for students from unfair fees associated with campus bank accounts. The new rules, released by the U.S. Department of Education, ban some of the worst and most predatory fees that students encounter from banks.

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Victory: CFPB Director Confirmed

On July 16, 2013, the U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, giving the bureau its full authority to protect consumers in the financial marketplace and to oversee payday lenders, mortgage companies, private student lenders and credit bureaus. 

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WISPIRG Blocks Predatory Rent-To-Own Bill

In May 2013, WISPIRG helped defeat a provision that would have given special treatment to the predatory rent-to-own industry, which charges astronomical annual interest rates to rent used or older model products. WISPIRG joined with State Sen. Glenn Grothman, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, and numerous faith and civic leaders to oppose a special interest exemption that would have eliminated the requirement that rent-to-own businesses disclose an APR.
 

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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

Report: Our latest report based on the CFPB's public Consumer Complaint database reviews the most-complained about debt collectors. Funny, a new CFPB complaint "snapshot" does not. The report comes as the CFPB's acting director threatens to make the database non-public. If the CFPB both shuts down the public database and continues to issue industry-friendly reports that don’t give out any real information, the public and marketplace harm is even greater.

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

Shining A Light on Consumer Problems:

Our report, Shining A Light on Consumer Problems: The Case for Public Access to the CFPB’s Financial Complaints Database, details why it is important that the highly successful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau database of over one million consumer complaints remain open to the public, so consumers, researchers and others can study the financial marketplace.

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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 | Public Health

Which stores make the grade for getting toxic chemicals off the shelves?

Out of the 40 largest retailers in North America, 19 lack any public policy to address toxic chemicals in the products found on their shelves.

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Blog Post | Antibiotics

And then there were none: Sanderson Farms joins other big chicken producers in curbing antibiotic use

For the past year or so, there was only one holdout among the largest chicken producers in the U.S. on action to keep life-saving antibiotics working. Now there are none.

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Blog Post

Congressional investigation concludes that Equifax breach was 'entirely preventable'

The worst data breach in history could have been prevented with some basic security measures.

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Pages

Blog Post | Public Health

Which stores make the grade for getting toxic chemicals off the shelves?

Out of the 40 largest retailers in North America, 19 lack any public policy to address toxic chemicals in the products found on their shelves.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Antibiotics

And then there were none: Sanderson Farms joins other big chicken producers in curbing antibiotic use

For the past year or so, there was only one holdout among the largest chicken producers in the U.S. on action to keep life-saving antibiotics working. Now there are none.

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Blog Post

Congressional investigation concludes that Equifax breach was 'entirely preventable'

The worst data breach in history could have been prevented with some basic security measures.

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Blog Post

In reversal, judge rejects Monsanto's request to overturn landmark case linking man's cancer to Roundup

The high-profile legal case linking a man’s terminal cancer to Roundup has taken another twist.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation

A new WISPIRG Foundation study released today found that investing in public transit and walking and biking infrastructure could help Wisconsin attract and retain young adults. The report, entitled Millennials on the Move, also indicates that Wisconsin’s current transportation policy priorities – which have focused on expanding major highways at the expense of maintaining existing infrastructure and funding public transit, walking and biking – will fail to create the type of system young adults desire and Wisconsin needs.

Report | WISPIRG Foundation

Car culture no longer represents the “American Dream” for young Americans. Many young people today prefer car-light, multimodal lifestyles that allow them to get around efficiently, multitask while commuting, and feel connected to their communities. Millennials are drawn to the high quality of life in places that offer extensive and safe walking and biking options, as well as clean, fast, and efficient public transportation networks. Moreover, this preference for multimodal lifestyles appears to be influencing young people’s decisions about where to live and work.

Blog Post

With antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" becoming a growing public health crisis, Domino's Pizza is choosing to fight, rather than address, a call to action.

Blog Post

Nestle is responding to consumer demands to reduce plastic waste.

Blog Post

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that the economic benefits of spraying antibiotics on millions of citrus trees outweighs the cost of potential antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics

Stop the overuse of antibiotics

The World Health Organization has identified antibiotic resistance as one of the top 10 global health threats. That's why reducing antibiotic overuse in food production is so important.

 

Public Health

How safe is our food?

Our latest report examines recent food safety trends, case studies of national recalls, what they mean for our health, and what we should do about it. 

 

Antibiotics

The golden arches just raised the bar for responsible antibiotic use in meat production

McDonald’s, the largest purchaser of beef in the United States, has made a commitment to reduce medically important antibiotics use in its beef supply.

 

Consumer Protection

Congressional investigation concludes that Equifax breach was entirely preventable

The worst data breach in history could have been prevented with some basic security measures.

 
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