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 | 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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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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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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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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News Release | WISPIRG | Transportation

Coalition Unveils Better Solution for I-94 East-West Corridor

Two weeks after WISDOT issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that proposes two costly and wasteful highway expansion options for the I-94 East-West corridor – a coalition is offering a new alternative aimed at enabling 21st century mobility in the corridor and developed by a 25-year transportation planner and NJ DOT veteran.  

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News Release | WISPIRG | Transportation

WISDOT Budget Request: Higher Taxes, More Wasteful Spending and Misplaced Priorities

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s (WISDOT) biennial budget request, released on Friday, proposes to slam Wisconsin taxpayers with a $751 million increase in taxes and fees.  At the same time, the budget request does nothing to address the irresponsible and misplaced spending of a Department that prioritizes squandering public money on unneeded highway expansion projects over urgent repair of local roads, transit systems, and bridges all over Wisconsin. 

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News Release | WISPIRG | Transportation

I-94 Corridor Draft EIS Options Disregard Data, Community and Taxpayer Concerns

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WISDOT) issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that proposes two costly options for expanding I-94 in Milwaukee. The study ignores community opposition to the expansion and concerns over detrimental local impacts of the expansion.  The EIS also disregards data showing that traffic volumes in the corridor are declining and which call into question the need for expanding the interstate.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

New Study: Traffic Data Does Not Support Spending on I-94 Expansion

A new report by WISPIRG Foundation calls the I-94 double decker expansion one of 11 examples of wasteful highway spending based on its outdated assumptions of ever-increasing driving. The study, which details ten other highway “boondoggles” across the country, points to data showing that traffic counts on this stretch of I-94 have been dropping in recent years, despite WISDOT projections that traffic would increase.  The study calls for the state to consider reprioritizing scarce transportation dollars to other projects.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

Some Good, Some Bad in Obama Executive Order on Protecting Antibiotics

Today, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order – Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria. While the order takes several important steps necessary to control the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it misses the opportunity to call for critical reforms in the agricultural sector that are essential to protect public health.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Food

Predictable Problems in the FDA Annual Report | Bill Wenzel

Not only did the FDA’s voluntary Guidance for Industry #213 not lower the sale and use of antibiotics for food-producing animals, these sales actually increased 4%.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

House Committee Launches Trojan Horse Assault On State Privacy Laws | Ed Mierzwinski

This afternoon (Tuesday, 8 December), the U.S. House Financial Services Committee launches a massive attack on state privacy laws. Hidden inside a seemingly modest proposal to establish federal data breach notice requirements is a Trojan Horse provision designed to to take state consumer cops off the privacy beat, completely and forever. That's wrong, because the states have always been key first responders and leaders on privacy threats that Congress has ignored, from credit report accuracy and identity theft to data breaches and do-not-call lists.

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Blog Post | Public Health

The Phantom, and Other Menaces | Anya Vanecek

In the midst of warnings that the post-antibiotic era is quickly approaching, we see evidence that it has already arrived.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Pulling a FAST one on our Transportation Future | Sean Doyle

For the first time in a decade, and after roughly three dozen short-term extensions, Congress has pulled together and passed a transportation-funding law lasting longer than two years. There is only one problem: the new law is the wrong deal for the country.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Not-so-secret-Santas in Congress Using Spending Bill To Roll Back Health, Safety, Wallet Protections | Ed Mierzwinski

With spending authorization for the federal government set to end on December 11, Congressional leaders are working with powerful special interests on their not-so-Secret-Santa lists to use spending bills as vehicles to gut health, safety and wallet protections popular with the general public but not with Wall Street or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They know they cannot win a fair fight. So they’re loading up the must-pass funding bill with so-called “riders,” which are unrelated policies that couldn’t get passed on their own. Everything we fought for in Wall Street reform, including the CFPB, is on the chopping block. So are many other PIRG health, safety, wallet and democracy priorities.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

The Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule today that would require new warnings for cigarette packages that depict the health risks of smoking. 

Blog Post

It's going to get easier for Wisconsin drivers to go electric and more likely that our kids will ride electric buses to school.

Blog Post

The number of statewide plastic bag bans in the U.S. tripled in June, with Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon adding themselves to the list.

Blog Post

Adam Garber, the PIRG consumer watchdog, was shocked when he discovered recalled baby rockers at his infant son's day care this June.

Blog Post

Equifax has agreed to pay $650 million two years after its data breach put 147 million people at risk. It's not enough.

Consumer Tips | U.S. PIRG

Deadly sleepers still in use at daycares

Our Consumer Watchdog team found 1-in-10 daycare centers using recalled sleepers that have killed more than 30 children.

 

Public Health | U.S. PIRG

Ban Roundup

As cancer victims hold Monsanto accountable in court, our governor should act to ban Roundup unless and until it's proven safe.

 

Antibiotics | U.S. PIRG

Another chain commits to reduce antibiotics

By committing to a concrete timeline for reducing antibiotic use in its beef supply chain, Taco Bell is taking an important step to help preserve these life-saving medicines. We're calling on Wendy's to follow their lead. Learn more.

 

Consumer Tips | U.S. PIRG

Capital One exposes 100 million to identity theft in largest-ever bank hack

Coming on top of the settlement of the massive Equifax data breach, the Capital One breach should serve as a wakeup call to all consumers to hit freeze on their financial identity today to ensure they are protected. Here's how.

 
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