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 | Financial Reform

Statement On Departure Today of Consumer Bureau Director Richard Cordray

U.S. PIRG and the state PIRGs commend Rich Cordray for his over six years as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s first director. In its short years as the nation’s top consumer cop, all under Director Cordray, the young Bureau has returned $12 billion dollars to over 29 million consumer victims of financial schemes by wrongdoers ranging from Wall Street banks, mortgage companies and for-profit schools to debt collectors, credit bureaus and payday lenders. FULL STATEMENT FOLLOWS.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Groups Demand To Know How Much Money Equifax Making Off Data Breach

Recent rosy earnings reports from Equifax and Transunion suggest that the company and its competitors are profiteering from consumer misery caused by the Equifax breach. They're hawking extremely-lucrative subscription credit monitoring products (up to $19.95/month or more) and charging us, in over 40 states where fees are allowed, for the privilege of placing a credit freeze to protect our own credit reports. Read our group press release, which links to our group letter to the Big 3 credit bureau CEOs.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Food

U.S. PIRG Joins Rep. Blumenauer In Calling For Farm Bill Reform

Rep. Blumenauer (OR) unveiled a new blueprint for the federal Farm Bill today. His bill, the Food & Farm Act, cuts wasteful agriculture subsidies that steer farmers toward harmful and unhealthy farming practices. Additionally, it deepens U.S. investments in proven conservation programs that help farmers switch to sustainable farming practices.

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

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinners from Store Shelves

Today, Target announced that it will be removing two fidget spinner models that contain well over the legal limit of lead for children’s toys from its store shelves. Target had initially balked at our request to do so, citing a Consumer Product Safety Commission rule stating that general use products directed at adults don’t need to follow the same lead guidelines as children’s products directed at children 12 and under. These two models of fidget spinners, the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass and the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal, were labeled for ages 14 and up.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WISPIRG Foundation staff found fidget spinners with high levels of lead for sale at Target stores across the country. Parents and consumers need to know about these lead-laden toys, especially because we alerted Target and the toy’s distributor, Bulls i Toy, to our findings, but they refused to address the problem. The toxic fidget spinners are still available both in toy aisles at Target stores and on its website.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

World Health Organization Urges Meat Industry To Cut Routine Antibiotic Use

The World Health Organization’s new guidelines on antibiotic use in the meat industry couldn’t come sooner. At least 2 million Americans become ill each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections and 23,000 die. The guidelines make clear that the agriculture sector needs to stop using antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in healthy animals.

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News Release | US PIRG | Tax

U.S. PIRG Statement on House Tax Bill

Below is a statement from U.S. PIRG Program Advocate Michelle Surka on the proposed House tax bill's impacts on our debt:

“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, introduced this morning in the House, is an exercise in fiscal recklessness, exploding the budget deficit while failing to close the biggest tax loopholes and relying on gimmicks to obscure the impact on the national debt. Rather than make prudent trade-offs to achieve the President's promised tax cuts, this bill twists itself into knots attempting to distract from the bottom line: it will add trillions to our deficit."

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News Release | WISPIRG | Public Health

Ahead of Key Vote, WISPIRG Urges Senate to “Get the Lead Out”

The State Senate is scheduled to vote today on SB48, a bipartisan bill intended to give communities across Wisconsin more tools to address the issue of lead in drinking water. SB48 would allow water utilities to help pay for removal of lead service lines - the single biggest source of lead contamination of drinking water.

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News Release | Consumer Protection


Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

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Protecting Wisconsin Kids from Toxic BPA

WISPIRG played a key role in 2010 in making Wisconsin the third state to ban bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical linked to cancer and obesity, from baby bottles and sippy cups.

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Result | Tax

Closing a Corporate Tax Loophole

WISPIRG advocacy contributed to closing a corporate tax loophole that levels the playing field for Wisconsin-based businesses by preventing multi-state companies from using out-of-state subsidiaries to avoid paying their taxes.

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Result | Democracy

Registering Young Voters

During the past four election cycles, WISPIRG’s New Voters Project has registered more than 160,000 18- to 24-year-olds and increased voter participation among young voters.

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Protecting Consumers from Unsafe Products

In the wake of the “Year of the Recall,” the largest overhaul in the history of the Consumer Product Safety Commission was signed into law on Aug. 14, 2008. The WISPIRG-backed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will help make products across the country safer — far less likely to trigger the massive recalls we saw a year ago and, more importantly, far less likely to cause harm to children.

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Pioneering Prescription Drug Reform

In 2007, the president signed a WISPIRG-backed law to rein in the makers of drugs like Vioxx, Paxil and Avandia, all of which had dangerous and deadly side effects. The bill reforms the Food and Drug Administration’s drug safety review process, makes drugs safer, and holds drug makers more accountable for the safety of consumers.

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Report | WISPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2015

For 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.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

The Security Freeze

The first defense against any kind of identity theft is to be vigilant about protecting your personal information by taking steps like creating secure passwords, installing anti-virus and anti-malware software, and shredding personal documents. (See Appendix A for more tips on protecting your personal information.) However, if and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit identity theft, there is really only one type that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

This is the sixth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about mortgages, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with mortgage originators and servicers.

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Report | WISPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Wisconsin’s Transportation Budget

As statewide transportation trends change and infrastructure throughout Wisconsin crumbles, demands on the state’s transportation budget are growing. The proposed 2015-17 biennial transportation budget recommends increasing bonding for transportation to a total of $1.3 billion for the next two years, while failing to address crucial transportation needs -- particularly at the local level. Wisconsin needs a more responsible alternative.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Budget, Transportation

Who Pays for Roads?

Many Americans believe that drivers pay the full cost of the roads they use through gas taxes and other user fees. That has never been true, and it is less true now than at any other point in modern times.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Sloppy Credit Bureaus, Sketchy Credit Doctors Slammed by Trifecta of CFPB, State AGs and Consumer Lawyers | Ed Mierzwinski

In the news this month are several successful efforts to improve credit report accuracy, compensate the victims of credit bureau malfeasance and also to bring some credit repair doctors to heel. Did it take a village? No, it took a combination of strong consumer laws, a strong CFPB, tough state attorneys general working on a bi-partisan basis and, finally, consumer attorneys engaged in private enforcement of the laws as another line of defense. For markets to work fairly, consumers need all these levels of protection.

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Blog Post | Antibiotics

Burger King Takes Action on Antibiotics, Sanderson Farms Takes a Back Seat | Matt Wellington

Last week another major restaurant took action to protect antibiotics, and a major laggard in the meat industry received a much-needed reality check.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

PHH v. CFPB: The Latest Attack on the Consumer Bureau | Michael Landis

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 24, the full D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in PHH v. CFPB—a case that could have a significant impact on the work of the most effective consumer protection agency that we have. Check out this blog and new short video from PIRG Litigation Director Mike Landis on why the idea of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Banks Cook Books To Promote Wrong Choice Act, Attack CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

Today the House Financial Services Committee takes up the so-called Financial Choice Act, which we call the Wrong Choice Act, to repeal the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and leave the CFPB an unrecognizable husk incapable of protecting consumers. Some 52 state bank associations urged support of the bill, based on a "cook-the-history-books" analysis of bank consolidation, which has not increased since 2010, even though they make the claim based on preposterous math.

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